Abbas heads to South Africa to attend Mandela memorial
Published Monday 09/12/2013 (updated) 10/12/2013 15:35
Candles are placed in front of the image of Nelson Mandela during
a vigil by Palestinians and members of the African community in the
Old City of Jerusalem.(AFP)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- President Mahmoud Abbas left for Johannesburg on Monday to attend the memorial service for the iconic South African leader Nelson Mandela.
Presidential spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeina, political affairs adviser Majdi al-Khalidi, and head of the PA's general intelligence services Majid Faraj will accompany Abbas.
More than 50 heads of state and government have confirmed their intentions to travel to South Africa to pay their respects to the anti-apartheid hero who died last Thursday, South Africa's foreign ministry has said.
US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle will be among 80,000 people attending a vast memorial service Tuesday in the Soweto sports stadium that hosted the 2010 World Cup final.
The commemorations will culminate with Mandela's burial on December 15 in Qunu -- the rural village where he spent his early childhood.
In statements on Friday following Mandela's death, Abbas said, "The Palestinian people will never forget his historic statement that the South African revolution will not have achieved its goals as long as the Palestinians are not free."
Nelson Mandela was a frequent advocate of the Palestinian cause and in 1990 told ABC News that, "We identify with the PLO because, just like ourselves, they are fighting for the right of self-determination."
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided not to attend the memorial service because it is too expensive to travel to South Africa, Israeli media reported Sunday.
Netanyahu had notified the South African authorities that he would fly in but cancelled his plans at the last minute due to the costs involved -- around 7.0 million shekels ($2 million) for his transport and security alone, pubic radio and the Haaretz daily reported.
Tributes to the late South African leader flooded in from Palestinian leaders following his death.
"And from within my prison cell, I tell you our freedom seems possible because you reached yours," jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti said in an open letter to Mandela.
"Apartheid did not prevail in South Africa, and apartheid shall not prevail in Palestine," he added.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat on Friday quoted Mandela as saying: "Never in the darkest hours of South Africa's apartheid have there been separated roads for blacks and whites," in an allusion to West Bank highways for Israeli use but closed to Palestinians.
AFP contributed to this report