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Catholics fear extremists will prosper after Arafat dies

Amid continuing speculations over Palestinian National Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's deteriorating health, some Catholics expressed fear extremist Islamic groups would gain strength after he dies.

Catholic News Service reports that Fr Ibrahim Hijazin of Ramallah's Holy Family Catholic Church has acknowledged that one of the main concerns of Christians at the moment is how Islamic groups will react in the face of a power vacuum within the Palestinian National Authority.

"There is this fear for the future as Christians - but there is that fear in Iraq, in Jordan - everywhere in the Arab world," Fr Hijazin said on Sunday. "What will be after Arafat? Some fear there will be infiltration (of radical Islamic forces). They are fearing there will be some problems (within) the Palestinian Authority which will reflect itself ... especially (on) the Christians."

The Arab Muslim world associates local Christians with what they perceive as the "Christian countries" of the United States and the UK acting in Afghanistan and Iraq, he said.

Although no special Masses were said for Arafat, Fr Hijazin said Arafat was in all their thoughts and prayers.

Arafat, 75, was flown from Ramallah to a Paris hospital for treatment of an undisclosed blood disorder on 29 October. After brief reports that his health was improving, it was announced last week that he had fallen into a coma. He has been on life support since then, and the Palestinian media and spokesmen have been issuing conflicting reports about his condition; at one point, his death was announced.

"We all hope (Arafat's condition will improve). Now he is at God's mercy," said Fr Shawki Batarian, chancellor for Jerusalem's Latin Patriarchate. "He was the leader of the people and the one who unified all Palestinians. Most important is that at Arafat's passing (all of Palestine) remain one in order to build the Palestinian state and put aside all personal issues.

"In any country when the chief passes, there is always confusion during the transition period," he added. "I hope nobody tries to take advantage of this and push through his own personal interests."

As Arafat ails, some Catholics fear extremists will gain strength (Catholic News Service 8/11/04)

Palestinian Catholics worried about possible removal of Arafat (CathNews 26/9/02)
Cardinal condemns Israeli Arafat threat (CathNews 27/4/04)
Holy Land Patriarch condemns Israel ban on Arafat Mass attendance (CathNews 20/12/02)

10 Nov 2004