Arafat collapses as his health worsens
Yasser Arafat collapsed Wednesday evening, was unconscious for about 10 minutes and remained in a "very difficult situation," Palestinian officials said. A team of Jordanian doctors was urgently summoned to treat the ailing Palestinian leader.
The committee includes Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, his predecessor, Mahmoud Abbas, and Salim Zaanoun, head of the Palestinian National Council.
The committee was to run the PLO and the Palestinian Authority until Arafat recovers, the official said on condition of anonymity.
Arafat was eating soup during a meeting with Qureia, Abbas and another official between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. (2 p.m. or 3 p.m. EDT) when he vomited, according to a bodyguard who was in the compound at the time.
The 75-year-old Arafat was brought to the clinic inside the compound, where he collapsed and was unconscious for about 10 minutes, the guard said. His doctors were urgently summoned.
Israeli security officials said Arafat's wife, Suha, who lives in France with their young daughter, was expected to arrive Thursday. The Jordanian doctors were also due Thursday.
Arafat has been known to be ill for two weeks, but reports about his ailment have varied widely.
Palestinian officials said he had the flu. Israeli officials speculated he might have stomach cancer, but two of his doctors said Wednesday a blood test and a biopsy of tissue from his digestive tract showed no evidence of cancer.
Arafat has shown symptoms of Parkinson's disease since the late 1990s.
As Arafat's condition worsened Wednesday, a senior Palestinian official told The Associated Press that a decision to move Arafat from his compound to a hospital would be made purely on medical grounds, without taking politics into consideration. Israel had said Monday it would allow Arafat to leave the compound for the hospital and return afterward, something the Israelis had refused to guarantee during Arafat's 2 1/2 year confinement to his Ramallah compound.
An official who was in the room with Arafat Wednesday night told AP that the Palestinian leader was in "serious condition." Another official said Arafat was not awake when he saw him later in the evening, but it was unclear whether he was sleeping, had been sedated or was in a coma. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity.
Dr. Ashraf Kurdi, a Jordanian doctor who is heading the team due to arrive Thursday, told AP that he was urgently summoned to Arafat's compound but was given no details.
"I tried to get a medical report from them. I couldn't get anything," he said.
Arafat's health crisis has highlighted how unprepared the Palestinians are for their leader's death, making a chaotic transition period all but inevitable. Arafat refuses to groom a successor; rival security chiefs already have battled each other in the streets.
Qureia and Abbas have both been touted as possible political heirs to Arafat, though the Palestinian leader has bickered with both and blocked their attempts to limit his powers.
No leader of Arafat's stature and popularity is waiting in the wings, said Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi. "It's only natural to expect that there would be either a power struggle or there would be a loss of cohesion," she said.
Analysts said it could take years for a leader to emerge, hurting prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. However, Israel and the United States hold out hope that a post-Arafat Middle East will be more conducive to peace because of what they say is Arafat's blind eye to terror and opposition to reform.
Polls show the second most popular Palestinian after Arafat is Marwan Barghouti, a leader of Fatah's young guard. But Barghouti is serving five consecutive life terms in an Israeli prison for involvement in deadly shooting attacks.
On paper, at least, a path of succession has been charted. The parliament speaker would replace Arafat as Palestinian Authority president for 60 days, until elections are held. However, current speaker Rauhi Fattouh is a bland backbencher uncertain to hold on during a turbulent transition period, and timely elections appear unlikely.
Arafat's other post, as PLO chief, would be filled, at least temporarily, by Abbas.
During Arafat's long confinement in the compound, doctors have equipped two rooms with medical equipment, including X-ray, ultrasound machines and emergency resuscitation gear.
In tests this week, Arafat was in his pajamas and wore a blue wool hat, instead of his trademark black-and-white checkered headscarf, an official on the medical team said.
The medical official said Arafat continues to sleep in a small room, which has only one window and is furnished with a bed and a closet, even though a new, sunnier room has been refurbished for him on another floor.
From his small window, Arafat looks out on rubble and heaps of cars flattened in previous Israeli raids.