- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 4, 2004

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat battled for his life yesterday after slipping into a coma at a military hospital outside of Paris.

“President Arafat does not have cardiac arrest or heart failure,” said Ashraf al-Kurdi, Mr. Arafat’s Jordanian doctor.

“He is still alive. He is not clinically dead. There is no brain death, but his condition is deteriorating.”

A senior Palestinian official told Reuters news agency:

“President Arafat is in very serious condition. He is still in a coma. The sense people are getting is that they are increasingly pessimistic.”

In Paris and in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where Mr. Arafat has lived under virtual house arrest for more than two years, Palestinian officials denied early reports of Mr. Arafat’s death.

But the inconsistencies in their descriptions of his condition only stoked speculation that the prognosis for the Palestinian leader’s recovery was increasingly bleak.

The 75-year-old leader, who embodies the Palestinian struggle for statehood, is being treated for a blood disorder that doctors have been unable to diagnose more specifically.

Mr. Arafat was moved into an intensive care unit on Wednesday, triggering the snowballing confusion about his condition. He was flown to the hospital outside Paris on Oct. 29.

Palestinian officials held a series of meetings in Ramallah in an apparent effort to set up a transitional government that would fill the power vacuum left by Mr. Arafat, who dominated the Palestinian struggle against Israel for four decades.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia told reporters that the Palestinian leader’s condition was “critical but controllable” and that there had been no change — for better or for worse — since Wednesday.

Earlier yesterday, Luxembourgian Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters that the Palestinian leader had died. He later retracted the statement after speaking with French President Jacques Chirac, who visited Mr. Arafat.

“So many people are making declarations without any basis,” said Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian reform activist. “I am upset at how many times Israel Radio has announced the passing of Yasser Arafat. It is untrue and completely unethical.”

At a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee yesterday, Mr. Qureia was granted the authority exercised by Mr. Arafat on security and fiscal matters. Meanwhile, Palestinian security services were placed on high alert yesterday evening because of the decline in Mr. Arafat’s condition, according to an Israel Radio report.

Today, Mr. Qureia is expected to visit the Gaza Strip, where a meeting with security leaders is aimed at quelling concern over the prospects of anarchy upon Mr. Arafat’s death.

A few months ago, Gaza was the scene of a spasm of kidnappings, shootings and demonstrations by dissident militias of Mr. Arafat’s al-Fatah, the core group in the PLO. They were protesting over accusation of corruption among security officials.

Only a handful of Palestinians assembled outside his half-destroyed headquarters in Ramallah last night.

At the gate of Mr. Arafat’s compound, Adnan Miare, 31, an Israeli Arab from the coastal city of Acre, wore a Palestinian flag leather pendant around his neck.

“I came especially to see the president,” he said.

“For me, it’s very important to see the situation here because I am a Palestinian. For us, Arafat is a symbol.”

Just a block away from the al-Manara Square, the city’s commercial center, the streets seemed unusually empty, observed Rageh Jaradat, 35.

“I just heard on Al Jazeera that he is clinically dead,” he said. The outdoor-stand worker explained that instead of celebrating the holy month of Ramadan with friends and family, Palestinians had stayed at home to watch television news reports on their leader.

“All of us are waiting. We are worried about him. We don’t know what will happen to him,” Mr. Jaradat said.

He said there was high uncertainty regarding a successor to Arafat. “It’s all upside down. Maybe its Mahmoud Abbas, maybe its Mohamad Dahlan.” The former is a past Palestinian prime minister. The latter is chief of one of the main Palestinian security organizations.

At the Kalandiya checkpoint on the outskirts of Ramallah, the largest Israeli military checkpoint in the West Bank, a soldier tried to joke with two Palestinian youths as they were checked for metal or explosives.

“So, Abu Ammar [another name for Mr. Arafat] is finished, dead,” the soldier said. “That’s it. Enough jihad and wars.”

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