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Palestinian leader Arafat in coma -Aide
Updated: 2004-11-04 20:14

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat has been in a coma since Wednesday evening and was now in critical condition in the intensive care unit at a French military hospital, aides said on Thursday.

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat was in a coma and in critical condition in the intensive care unit at a French military hospital after his health suddenly deteriorated, aides said November 4, 2004.Palestinian President Yasser Arafat shows his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo in this December 10, 1994 file photograph. [Reuters]
They said 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.

Arafat's immune system appeared quite weak as his health, which had at first stabilized after he arrived at the hospital on Friday, 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. (11 a.m. EST).

"He has no immunity whatsoever," another aide said.

Rumors about Arafat's health swirled on Thursday as some Middle East media denied he was in a coma while others saw him close to death.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian officials said Arafat was not in a coma. "It's not true at all that Arafat went into a coma," Tayeb Abdul Rahim, a senior aide, told reporters.

A briefing by the hospital had been expected at 11 a.m. (5 a.m. EST) but was put off without any explanation. It was not clear whether it would make any statement during the day.

"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.

Arafat, for decades a symbol of the Palestinian struggle with Israel, was rushed to France from the West Bank last Friday with severe stomach pains, diarrhea and vomiting.

Arafat's slide into illness has raised fears of chaos among Palestinians locked in a 4-year-old uprising, and the death of a leader Israel and Washington see as an obstacle to peace could shuffle the cards in the Middle East conflict.

The French doctors said on Tuesday that Arafat was responding to treatment although aides said the Palestinian leader could remain in the hospital in a southwestern Paris suburb for several more weeks.


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."

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.

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


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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