- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 2, 2004

CLAMART, France — Yasser Arafat’s French physicians are refusing to discuss his health crisis, leading to rampant speculation about the Palestinian leader’s dramatic deterioration.

One Palestinian official ruled out leukemia, and another said it was not a concern “for the time being.” A medical guessing game has ensued, with talk of likely blood disorders, poisoning or a viral infection.

Israel’s chief of military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Aharon Zeevi-Farkash, did little to clear things up. An Israeli official quoted him as saying at a Cabinet meeting on Sunday that Mr. Arafat’s “situation is between full recovery and death.”

“Arafat’s condition is improving,” Gen. Zeevi-Farkash was quoted as saying. “The blood transfusions have helped. We don’t know if it’s viral infection, perhaps mono, or it’s leukemia or another cancer.”

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath, however, has said all types of cancer have been ruled out.

As the ailing Mr. Arafat, 75, began his fourth day of emergency treatment at a French military hospital on Monday, the doctors maintained their policy of silence until a diagnosis can be made, based on tests that began immediately after his arrival on Friday.

Israelis and Palestinians alike are awaiting the diagnosis impatiently, though it is not clear when it might come.

Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian Cabinet minister, had said a medical report would be issued by early yesterday. But Mohammed Rashid, a close Arafat aide, said results were expected today. Arafat spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh said the results might not be available until tomorrow.

Mr. Arafat has been ill for two weeks and took a turn for the worse a week ago, collapsing and briefly losing consciousness. Initial blood tests done in the West Bank revealed a low platelet count. Physicians at the Hopital d’Instruction des Armees de Percy gave Mr. Arafat a platelet transfusion shortly after his arrival.

Platelets are blood components that aid clotting. A low count indicates a potential problem with the bone marrow, where blood cells are produced. There are many causes of platelet decline.

Poisoning, either from the toxic side effects of medicine or food contamination, is only one of many possible explanations for the blood condition. An initial concern was leukemia, which has among its symptoms a low platelet count.

“Arafat does not have leukemia,” Mr. Rashid said Sunday.

Leila Shahid, the Palestinian envoy in Paris, sounded less certain. “The doctors exclude for the time being any possibility of leukemia,” she said on Sunday.

The Israeli parliament’s Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee discussed Mr. Arafat’s condition in its weekly meeting on Monday. A military intelligence official said at the closed-door meeting that Mr. Arafat apparently suffers from a severe viral infection or cancer.

Israelis, including government officials, criticized the intelligence network for failing to track Mr. Arafat’s deteriorating health.

“If there is one figure that intelligence is following since 1968 every day and every hour, and he is not too hard to follow … it is Arafat,” Akiva Eldar, a commentator, said on Israel’s Army Radio on Rafi Reshef’s morning talk show.

“We didn’t know that his health was so bad. Everything that happened at [Mr. Arafat’s headquarters] a couple of days ago came as a complete surprise,” he said.

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