Thursday, November 04, 2004

 

BREAKING--Arafat in coma in French hospital

From Reuters:

Palestinian Leader Arafat in Coma - Aide

By Wafa Amr PARIS (Reuters) - Palestinian President Yasser Arafat went into a coma overnight and was lying unconscious in a French military hospital on Thursday while back home Palestinian security chiefs were called to an emergency meeting.

Doctors carrying out tests on the 75-year-old leader since he was airlifted to France last Friday still did not know what was wrong with him, despite ruling out leukemia, they said.

Arafat's immune system appeared quite weak as his health, which had at first stabilized after he arrived at the hospital, suddenly deteriorated on Wednesday, they said.

"Arafat is in a coma and in a critical condition," a senior Palestinian official told Reuters. He was transferred to the intensive care unit on Wednesday at around 5 p.m. (1600 GMT).

"He has no immunity whatsoever," said another aide, adding he slipped into the coma around 2 a.m. (0100 GMT) on Thursday.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, the heads of all Palestinian security services were due to hold an emergency meeting, security sources said.

The meeting was to be held in the evening at Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah, the sources told Reuters.

Senior Palestinian officials had earlier denied Arafat was in a coma. "No coma," Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie told reporters. "His condition is not getting better, nor is it worsening."

Arafat's slide into illness has raised fears of chaos among Palestinians locked in a 4-year-old uprising.

Arafat, loved by most Palestinians and reviled by many Israelis, has named no successor since emerging from exile under interim peace accords with Israel in the early 1990s.

The death of a leader Israel and Washington see as an obstacle to peace could also shuffle the cards in the Middle East conflict.

Arafat was rushed to France from the West Bank with severe stomach pains, diarrhea and vomiting.

A briefing by the hospital had been expected at 11 a.m. (1000 GMT) but was put off without any explanation. Journalists at the hospital in Clamart, a southwestern Paris suburb, expected a statement later on Thursday.

"New tests have been carried out including an endoscopy (visual internal examination). Nothing was found out from those tests," a senior aide said earlier on Thursday.

According to France 2 television, the Palestinian leader was very weak and seemed to have reacted badly to tests his doctors were carrying out to determine the cause of his illness.

DOCTORS SEEK EXPLANATIONS

Leila Shahid, the Palestinian's permanent envoy to Paris, earlier said that there was a setback in Arafat's health and that doctors were trying to find out what had caused it.

"Obviously in his case, there could be setbacks at times and this is a setback," said Shahid. "(On Thursday), the doctors will give a very clear and direct explanation and report on what is happening."

In Washington, a senior State Department official said: "We frankly don't know the state of his medical condition."

Aides have been keen to present Arafat as still in charge. He has temporarily delegated powers to two men -- Qurie and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader's number two in the PLO.

Palestinian officials said Farouq Kaddoumi, another senior PLO official, had arrived in Paris to see Arafat.

Earlier on Wednesday, Arafat had sent congratulations to President Bush on his re-election. Bush has backed the idea of a Palestinian state as part of a peace deal but has tried to shut Arafat out of Middle East decision-making.

Both Washington and Israel accuse Arafat of fomenting violence in the uprising against Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank that broke out in 2000, a charge he denies.

Until he was airlifted to France, Arafat had been effectively confined to his shell-shattered Ramallah headquarters by Israeli forces for 2-1/2 years.

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