Arafat's departure ends an era for PLO

Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat sailed for Beirut Aug. 30 leaving behind ''a part of my heart, a part of my conscience.''

His departure closed a chapter in PLO history. That chapter recorded the PLO attaining its greatest political and military power since its birth in 1965. However, it ended with much of its military muscle demolished and the rest scattered through the Arab world.

The PLO predicts its 77-day war with Israel will only enhanced its political standing in the world.

Lebanon and Beirut in particular have made the PLO's zenith of power possible. Lebanon's laissez faire society was what the Palestinians often called a perfect ''temporary home'' en route to Palestine.

Many Lebanese say the PLO abused that society, ruining it for the Lebanese. The chief proponent of that accusation is the president-elect Bashir Gemayel, who personally fought Arafat's guerrillas during the 1975-76 civil war.

In the early 1960s a man born as Rahman Abdel Raouf Arafat frequented the posh St. George Hotel on Beirut's then chic seafront. That same man later traveled widely to see revolutionary Algeria and China. His resulting politicization made him into the Yasser Arafat of 1982.

His hangouts changed from first-class hotels to refugee camps teeming with dirty children, open sewers, and cinder block one-room homes.

Beirut has become synonomous with the PLO and Mr. Arafat. It was the Israeli-Palestinian war which nearly destroyed the one place where Mr. Arafat felt safe enough to make his base.

The PLO leader smiled throughout his morning round of farewells Sunday. But it looked like only the facade of a smile, barely covering obvious emotions. The head of the leftist Lebanese national group Walid Jumblatt cried openly. Much of Mr. Arafat's feelings about leaving appeared to be redirected toward nervously tapping his swagger stick.

''Whatever I do, I will not be able to express in these few words the feelings of love and appreciation that I hold in my heart for all those I have known in this country who embrace our revolution with love, tenderness, and sacrifice,'' Mr. Arafat said.

''Beirut has recorded a miracle of heroism inspired by the decision we took together to defend it against the criminal invaders (the Israelis) in the shadow of the most difficult circumstances ever lived by our Arab nations. This made Beirut a symbol which will go down in history.''

''I am leaving this city, my heart is here - a part of my heart, a part of my conscience.''

''This (Beirut) is a station and I am going to another station,'' Mr. Arafat said, dressed in green fatigues and a traditional Arab headdress.

''This is a long march,'' he added.

Many ordinary Muslim Lebanese people were not tinged by the sadness their leader displayed. Frequent comments from taxi drivers and shopkeepers were ''good riddance.''

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