Thousands of Palestinians pay tribute to Chavez
Published Thursday, March 7, 2013
Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank were united in grief on Thursday over the death of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, an unwavering supporter of their cause who fiercely opposed Israel.
The 58-year-old Venezuelan president, who died on Tuesday after a nearly two-year struggle with cancer, was hugely popular with the Palestinians for his outspoken support for their plight.
"This is a great loss for us," Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said during a condolence call to the Venezuelan representative's office in Ramallah.
"The Palestinian people will remain faithful to Chavez whose memory will remain engraved in our consciousness in recognition of his courageous support for our right to an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital," he said a day earlier.
The Palestinian love affair with the firebrand Latin American leader began in earnest in January 2009 when he described Israel as a terror state during its 22-day assault on Gaza which killed over 1,400 Palestinians.
He severed all diplomatic ties with Israel that month over its "cruel persecution of the Palestinian people."
Known for his staunch, vocal support for a Palestinian state, Chavez never made any attempt to disguise his contempt for Israel which he described as "genocidal" and a "killer state."
Watch Chavez condemn Israel's 2008-2009 assault on Gaza:
In Gaza City, huge pictures of the stocky former paratrooper were plastered on walls alongside the yellow, blue and red of the Venezuelan flag which could be seen fluttering outside souvenir shops.
Gaza's Hamas government offered similar praise for the Venezuelan strongman who courted controversy with Washington over his close ties with anti-Western regimes in Syria and Iran.
Hailing him a "great leader," the Islamist movement said Chavez had "dedicated his life to defending the dignity and liberty of his people, to refusing to submit to the US-Israeli hegemony and who supported the Palestinian people and their cause in the face of the Zionist aggression and occupation."
"His last act of bravery was to allow the Palestinians to enter Venezuela without a visa, which many Arab leaders have yet to do," it said.
Similar sentiment could be heard on the street.
"We will never forget his courageous position on the Palestinian question, in particular over the Israeli operation," said 23-year-old student Bahaa Wahba, referring to the three-week offensive over New Year 2009.
"He really felt the suffering of the Palestinians," Hani al-Agha, 31, said.
Tributes were also flowing in Ramallah, where hundreds of people turned out to pay their respects at the Venezuelan representative's office.
Demonstrators outside the same office had on Wednesday carried pictures of Chavez and Venezuelan flags at a rally in support of prisoners held in Israeli jails.
Senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath hailed Chavez as someone who "endlessly worked... for all oppressed peoples, including Palestine."
"Palestine says goodbye to a loyal friend who passionately defended our right to freedom and self-determination," he said late on Tuesday.