GAZA, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- Nov. 11, 2004 is a date that will remain forever etched in the memory of many Palestinians. It is the day Yasser Arafat, the man who for decades symbolized the Palestinians, died in a Paris hospital. Arafat's death left a void in the Palestinian leadership, as well as in the hearts of his people.
The year 2004 was a year during which Palestinians lost several leaders, yet they look to 2005 with renewed hope and a fresh start. The Jan. 9 elections hopes to see a cew crop of leaders emerge -- ones less radical and more prone to reform.
Despite the ambiguity that surrounded Arafat's death, his departure from the political scene places the Palestinians at somewhat of a crossroad.
Contrary to what some observers predicted -- that Arafat's death would create internal strife among Palestinians -- the transfer of power has gone smoothly.
Mohamed Dahlan, a former minister of interior security, said that the world was amazed at how authority passed easily to the new Palestinian leadership after Arafat's death.
"The new Palestinian leadership really deserves a reward for their political performance, courage and steadfastness after President Arafat passed away," said Dahlan.
As soon as Arafat's death was officially declared, Palestinian organizations -- mainly the Palestinian Liberation Organization's executive committee and the mainstream Fatah movement that Arafat chaired for four decades -- emerged as the prominent faction.
The PLO leadership wasted no time in naming Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, as chairman of the PLO, and chose him as Fatah's candidate for the president elections.
Arafat had held the top positions in the PLO, Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. Upon his death these tasks were distributed to Abu Mazen, who assumed the chairmanship of the PLO, Farouk Kadoumi, who was named at the head of Fatah, Rawhi Fattouh as PA chairman, and Ahmed Qureia who remained prime minister, but also took over as chief of the PA security forces.
Legally, the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council -- Fattouh -- was to take over the position of the PA president for 60 days until presidential elections were held.
Meanwhile, about 83 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have registered to vote.
When Arafat ran for president in 1996, he was unchallenged. This time, 12 candidates, including independents and left-wingers are running, though Abbas seems to be the favorite.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they would boycott the elections, but said that if legislative and local elections were held at the same time, they would be willing to participate.
Palestinians, for the most part, lived the year 2004 no different from the past three years of the intifada, with continuing violence on both sides claiming lives.
According to B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, 3,400 Palestinians have been killed during the intifada (between Sept. 29, 2000 and Nov. 30. 2004) and Palestinian officials say over 53,000 were injured. In addition, Israel detained more than 7,000 Palestinians.
Israeli losses, according to B'Tselem stands at 210 civilians killed for the same time period.
The year 2004 also witnessed the liquidation of several leaders from various political and militant groups. The most prominent was Hamas's spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was killed on March 22 as he was leaving a mosque near his house.
Yassin's successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, was also killed by Israel on May 18 when helicopters fired rockets at his car.
Other leaders, such as Fatah's secretary-general Marwan Barghouti, and Popular Front leader Abdel Rahim Mallouh were jailed.
The question Palestinians ask themselves at the close of this year is if 2005 will be the year that finally brings peace to the troubled land.