BAQA AL-GHARBIYA: Thousands of mourners attended the funeral yesterday of Aiia Maasarwe, an Arab Israeli student killed in Australia, in her hometown of Baqa Al-Gharbiya in northern Israel. The 21-year-old was raped and murdered in Australia's second-largest city Melbourne shortly after midnight on Jan 16 when she was on her way home from a comedy show. Her body was found by passersby in bushes near a tram stop.

Police in Australia, who have described the attack as "horrific", have arrested and charged a suspect, 20-year-old Codey Herrmann, with her rape and murder. The murder of Maasarwe, who had been studying in Australia for a year, shocked the country and sparked a huge outpouring of grief that saw thousands attend vigils in her memory. "I appreciate the support of all these people, in the whole world and also in my town," said her father, Saeed Maasarwe, with Australia's ambassador to Israel, Chris Cannan, by his side.

Thousands of people gathered in silence at Baqa Al-Gharbiya, a town with a Muslim majority, as mourners carried the coffin containing Maasarwe's body to her family home. Near the family's front gate, neighbors had hung signs reading "Stop picking our flowers". Another banner read: "Killing the dream and killing education is killing ambition and humanity." As relatives wept, girls held banners in Arabic and English saying: "Aiia, your beautiful soul will never be forgotten."

The only sound that could be heard was of Muslim prayers from loudspeakers. Youths marching in a procession held up black banners that read "It's time to say: stop killing women" and "Women have the right to live in peace" in both Arabic and English. A crowd of mourners then followed Maasarwe's coffin as it was taken to the Al-Sarat mosque and cemetery where she was laid to rest.

Hours earlier, the town's mayor, Khaled Abu Mukh, and Israeli Arab MP Ahmad Tibi accompanied Maasarwe's father as her coffin arrived at the airport. In a video posted on social media, Tibi said Maasarwe was now the daughter of all Arab Israelis. Arab Israelis are descendants of Palestinians who remained on their land following the creation of Israel in 1948. They account for some 17.5 percent of Israel's population and largely support the Palestinian cause. - Agencies