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Arrigoni, Mer-Khamis to receive Jerusalem honors

April 24, 2011 7:48 P.M. (Updated: April 26, 2011 11:23 A.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma’an) -- President Mahmoud Abbas announced Sunday that he would award the Jerusalem Medal of Honor to murdered Italian activist Vittorio Arrigoni and slain Freedom Theater director Juliano Mer-Khamis.

Family members of both men will be presented with the medals when Arrigoni's mother visits Palestine, Abbas said.

Mourners gathered in Ramallah and Gaza City on Sunday to pay tribute to Arrigoni as he was buried in Milan, just weeks after friends and family laid Mer-Khamis to rest in Israel. Abbas spoke at the Tomb of Arafat in the West Bank's de facto capital, calling both murders "sinful, committed by criminal hands."

"Honoring these two martyrs is the least we can do to acknowledge the efforts they made to serve Palestinians. We send our condolences to their families, and to the Palestinian people, who were also their family," Abbas told those gathered for a memorial service by the president's office.

Vittorio, allegedly killed by three men in Gaza City who claimed to be part of a Salafist fringe group, "came to Palestine to sympathize with the Palestinian people. He dedicated his life to serve them as he lived in Gaza under dire conditions," Abbas said.

"The hands that killed him do not represent that hands of the Palestinian people, those hands are not even human. This man came to us full of life, vigor, and energy, and he was returned to his family a dead body," the president said.

Abbas reiterated the Palestinian Authority’s condemnation of the murders of both Arrigoni and Mer-Khamis asserting that both victims were killed in service of the Palestinian people and would be recognized as "martyrs."

Investigations continue in Jenin, where Mer-Khamis was gunned down in front of the Freedom Theater, which he resurrected after the project his mother - Jewish-Israeli activist Arna Mer - fell into disuse during the Second Intifada.

Two men accused of Arrigoni's murder were killed during an arrest campaign in Gaza City, and a third was detained by Gaza government security forces.

Members of the staff of Italy's consulate were in attendance.
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