News and Information

Rising crisis over Arafat health
November 4, 2004
French doctors treating Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat have denied Israeli TV reports that he has died.

Mr Arafat's health has deteriorated sharply in the last two days and he is being treated in intensive care.

Israel's Channel Two television quoted unnamed sources in Paris which said Mr Arafat underwent a brain scan and was "no longer alive".

Mr Arafat, 75, was flown to a military hospital in Paris last week. He has led the Palestinians since the 1960s.

"Mr Arafat is not dead," said head physician Christian Estripeau in a brief statement outside the Percy hospital.

"His clinical situation has become more complex. President Arafat remains in the Percy hospital, where he was transferred on Wednesday afternoon to a unit suited to his pathology," he said.

Sources close to Mr Arafat's entourage in Paris had earlier reported that he was in a coma, but this was denied by officials at his Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Officials in the West Bank held emergency meetings to discuss the crisis.

Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei was reported to have taken over some of Mr Arafat's powers over security and financing.

'Difficult condition'

BBC correspondent James Reynolds said that, while public statements from Palestinian officials in Ramallah were positive, their expressions suggested the situation of their leader was serious.

Officials gathered for meetings of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation decision-making executive committee and the Fatah movement central committee - both of which have been headed by Mr Arafat for more than 40 years.

Yasser Arafat
Arafat seemed frail as he left the West Bank last week
"The condition of the president is difficult, but he is stable and doctors are continuing their tests," senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told the AFP news agency.

Mr Arafat was flown to the French capital last Friday from his headquarters in Ramallah with a mystery illness.

At the time, he was said to have collapsed after suffering from what was first described as severe gastric flu.

Doctors say they have found no trace of leukaemia or any other cancer. They have been checking for a viral infection.

French President Jacques Chirac has visited Mr Arafat, but a presidential spokeswoman who announced the visit did not give any details about the patient's state of health.

It was a brief visit in which the president "expressed his best wishes" to Mr Arafat's wife, his office said.

Tests have shown that he has a low count of blood platelets, which are needed for clotting, but doctors are unsure of what is causing the condition.

Trouble spots

On Thursday, Israeli security chiefs discussed Mr Arafat's condition at their weekly briefing.

Mr Arafat has made a lot of sacrifices in his lifetime for the sake of freedom for the Palestinian people
Mustafa, London, UK

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Profile: Yasser Arafat
The military has been put on high alert, although no troops have been moved into potential trouble spots.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said he would allow Mr Arafat to return to the West Bank if he recovers.

But he has made it clear he will not allow his old adversary to be buried in Muslim holy ground in east Jerusalem.

Palestinian security chiefs are also due to hold meetings in Ramallah and the Gaza Strip.

There are fears that Mr Arafat's possible demise could spark chaos in the volatile Gaza Strip, already destabilised by inter-factional fighting and uncertainty over Israel's planned pullout from the area.

There is no clear line of succession should Mr Arafat be unable to continue in power.

He has not anointed a successor, although the parliamentary speaker would take over temporarily.


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