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Palestinian delegation to visit comatose Arafat
Updated: 2004-11-09 20:30

Yasser Arafatslipped deeper into a coma overnight and his health worsened, a doctor treating him said on Tuesday before Palestinian officials arrived at a French military hospital for a visit Arafat's wife adamantly opposed.
Palestinian delegation to visit comatose Arafat
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei (R), escorted by an Israeli soldier working at the Alenbey Bridge crossing point between Israel and Jordan, as he leaves the V.I.P terminal on his way to Paris November 8, 2004. Palestinian leaders headed for Paris to see critically ill President Yasser Arafat at a French military hospital despite a scathing attack by his wife who accused them of plotting to "bury him alive". Amid an increasingly bitter row over Arafat's fate, Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie, Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath and PLO Secretary General Mahmoud Abbas were on route to Jordan, from where they planned to fly to France aboard a private jet. [Reuters]
Confirming that 75-year-old Palestinian leader was in a coma, the hospital's chief doctor said Arafat's health had worsened considerably. He spoke of a "reserved prognosis" for Arafat, a discreet phrase meaning a patient is close to death.

The delegation including Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie, Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath and Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary General Mahmoud Abbas arrived at the hospital after France hinted it was losing patience with the visit dispute.

Arafat's wife, Suha, has kept tight control over access to and information about her husband. The hospital statement was the first confirming he was in a coma, while Palestinian officials have been saying so for days.

"The state of health of President Arafat worsened during the night," chief doctor Christian Estripeau said outside Percy military hospital in a southwestern suburb of Paris.

"The comatose state that led to his admission into intensive care is deeper this morning. That marks a significant step toward an evolution which cannot yet be determined," he said.

Estripeau gave no further information but a Palestinian official told Reuters: "Day by day, his organs are functioning on stop-and-go. He's deteriorating by the day. He has not come out of coma since Wednesday. It's a matter of time."

The hospital issued its statement as senior Palestinian officials headed for a showdown with Suha Arafat over the secrecy she has imposed around her husband's health.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier increased pressure on her to allow a visit by noting President Jacques Chirac had visited her husband last week.

"These are old friends of Yasser Arafat," he told France 2 television. "I think it's simply natural that, in accordance with her, they can meet Yasser Arafat."


Suha Arafat, 41, who is widely criticized by Palestinians for living in a smart area of Paris while they suffer violence at home, has hunkered down behind French privacy laws giving her control over information on her husband's health.

"Suha still opposes releasing information to the Palestinian leaders on Arafat's health and has said she will not allow them to visit Arafat in the hospital," a Palestinian official said. "She believes they are in Paris to strip Arafat of his powers."

The hospital has ruled out leukemia but not given any diagnosis of Arafat's illness. Palestinian officials say he is suffering from liver failure.

The struggle between the Palestinian leadership and the woman Arafat married late in life has set off a series of rumors about the reasons for her intransigence.

One concerns bank accounts she holds in France with transfers totaling 9 million euros ($11.5 million). She has denied charges these funds were improperly diverted from Palestinian coffers in recent years.

Asked about these charges, Barnier said bigger issues were at stake and added: "I don't know what's true in all that."


Palestinian officials say she may want to take revenge on Abbas, who opposed her marriage to Arafat in 1992 and prevented her from accompanying her husband to the White House for the signing of the Oslo peace accords the following year.

All three leaders are potential successors and Arafat's wife has accused them of wanting to "bury him alive." Shaath has said the delegation wanted to get the full facts on Arafat.


Despite the bickering, Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Monday he was impressed by the Palestinian leaders' handling of Arafat's absence and said he hoped the "relative calm" in the region would continue.

"I hope that sense of quiet and calm can be maintained and (that) it gives us something to work with," Powell told reporters on the way to Mexico. He reiterated that the United States was "ready to engage as soon as it is appropriate to engage" with the so-called road map peace plan.

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