Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died on Nov. 11, 2004, in a Paris hospital of old age and a mysterious illness. He was survived by his wife, Suha Tawil, a Palestinian Christian half his age whom he married in the early 1990s, and their daughter.
Arafat spent most of his 75 years in exile. Born in Cairo (although others claim he was born in Gaza or in Jerusalem) to a wealthy Palestinian family in 1929, the boy born Mohammed Abdul-Rauf Arafat Qudwa Al-Husseini, nicknamed "Yasser" ("Easy") by his mother, divided his childhood between Egypt and his mother's family in Jerusalem.
Arafat became involved in politics at an early age, smuggling weapons from Egypt to Palestine in the last years of the British mandate and fighting against the nascent state of Israel in 1948.
Arafat returned to Egypt after the Arab defeat to study engineering, deciding against an earlier plan to attend the University of Texas. After getting his degree in 1951, he worked in Egypt for a time, then moved to Kuwait in 1956 to be a public-works engineer, eventually becoming head of his own company.
All the while continuing his political activities, Arafat and others founded the Fatah organization in Kuwait in 1958. In 1965, after 17 years abroad, he returned to the West Bank, then administered by Jordan, to carry out guerrilla and terrorist attacks on Israel.
After the disastrous defeat of the June 1967 Six-Day War, during which the West Bank and Gaza Strip came under Israeli control, the Arab states which had formed the Palestine Liberation Organization as a puppet group in 1964 lost credibility. Control of the umbrella organization passed to indigenous Palestinian groups and Arafat, as head of the largest bloc, became head of the PLO's executive committee, a position he has held ever since.
The PLO became a state within a state in Jordan, with its own military and foreign policy. Within two years, it had become such a threat that King Hussein attacked it in September 1969, forcing the Palestinian militants out of his country after weeks of brutal fighting.
Arafat then moved with the Palestinian leadership to southern Lebanon, where again the PLO set up its own statelet as it carried out attacks on Israel, instituted a wave of airplane hijackings and destabilized the weak Lebanese government until it collapsed in 1975, sparking the sectarian civil war which was to last for 15 years.
In 1978, fed up with PLO attacks on his northern border, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin launched an assault on Lebanon, driving Arafat and the PLO leadership north to take up residence in the Muslim sector of Beirut.
In 1982, as PLO attacks continued, Israeli forces, led by then-General Ariel Sharon, moved up to the outskirts of Beirut itself, threatening to invade the city unless the PLO was forced out.
Arafat and the PLO leadership sailed to Tunisia, where another government-in-exile was set up. Sharon admitted in a 2001 interview that he regretted not having had Arafat killed in Beirut, and indeed Israeli warships tried to do just that, rocketing Arafat's seaside home outside Tunis.
The 1987 intifada against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip erupted without PLO leadership, but the global attention given to the conflict restored Arafat's influence.
In 1988, a Palestinian state-in-exile was declared at a meeting in Algiers, and Arafat was elected its president. It was the first step on the road to legitimacy that led to the secret Oslo peace talks, the 1993 White House agreement, the PLO's recognition of the state of Israel and Arafat's triumphal return to the occupied territories in 1994 after 27 years in exile.