Palestinians pay tribute to late anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela

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A Palestinian protester holds his national flag and a portrait of late South African president Nelson Mandela during a weekly protest against Israeli occupation in the West Bank village of Bilin on December 6, 2013. (Photo: AFP - Abbas Momani)

Published Friday, December 6, 2013

Updated at 4:15pm: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas paid tribute Friday to Nelson Mandela's commitment to his people's cause as he mourned the South African liberation icon.

"This is a great loss for all the peoples of the world, and for Palestine," Abbas said, hailing a "symbol of freedom from colonialism and occupation."

Mandela, 95, was a leader of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and the country’s first black president. He died on Thursday after an extended illness.

He first visited the Palestinian territories in 1999, and was an ardent supporter of the Palestinian cause and a champion for Middle East peace.

“We know too well that our [South African] freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians,” Mandela famously said in 1997.

"The Palestinian people will never forget his historic statement," Abbas said.

He described Mandela as the "most courageous and important of those who supported us."

Many Palestinians have taken inspiration from Mandela's successful struggle against apartheid in their decades-long struggle to end Israeli occupation.

"The name Mandela will stay forever with Palestine and with all Palestinians," Abbas said.

Hamas, the ruling party of the Gaza Strip, paid tribute to a "great fighter."

Mandela was "one of the most important symbols of freedom and one of the most important supporters of the Palestinian people's cause," Hamas spokesman Moussa Abu Marzuq said.

Jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti said Mandela's struggle for freedom inspired Palestinians to believe that their own liberation was "possible."

His remarks were made in an open letter to Mandela sent from Cell 28 of Hadarim prison in Israel, which was published by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) a day after the South African liberation leader's death.

"From within my prison cell, I tell you our freedom seems possible because you reached yours," he wrote.

"You are much more than an inspiration," he added. "You carried a promise far beyond the limits of your countries' borders, a promise that oppression and injustice will be vanquished, paving the way to freedom and peace ... All sacrifices become bearable by the sole prospect that one day the Palestinian people will also be able to enjoy freedom."

Barghouti still wields huge influence from inside prison where he is serving five life sentences and has been dubbed "the Palestinian Mandela."

"Apartheid did not prevail in South Africa, and apartheid shall not prevail in Palestine," he wrote.

Meanwhile, Israeli politicians also paid tribute to the late South African leader, albeit minimizing his connection with the Palestinian cause.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Mandela "a man of vision and a freedom fighter who disavowed violence."

"He set a personal example for his country during the long years in which he was imprisoned. He was never haughty. He worked to heal rifts within South African society and succeeded in preventing outbreaks of racial hatred," the Israeli premier said.

Despite his pacifist instincts, Mandela never renounced violence in the struggle against apartheid and his African National Congress had an active military wing during his long incarceration.

Since the end of the apartheid regime in 1994, South Africa has been an outspoken critic of Israel, although it maintains diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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