- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 9, 2004

PARIS — A comatose Yasser Arafat clung to life yesterday after suffering another downturn, his major organs still functioning but his survival dependent “on the will of God,” the Palestinian foreign minister said.

Palestinian leaders made preparations for Mr. Arafat’s eventual death, saying they would bury him at his sandbagged headquarters in the West Bank and turn the site into a shrine.

But the 75-year-old leader, whose condition has worsened steadily since he was flown to a military hospital outside Paris on Oct. 29, would not be removed from life support, Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said.

“His brain, his heart and his lungs are still functioning, and he is alive,” Mr. Shaath said after he and other Palestinian officials met with Mr. Arafat’s doctors, his wife and French President Jacques Chirac.

“He will live or die depending on his body’s ability to resist and on the will of God,” Mr. Shaath said.

Mr. Shaath’s remarks at a press conference underlined that the Palestinian leadership was now in control of information about Mr. Arafat after days of confusing and often conflicting reports about his undisclosed illness.

Palestinian officials had been denied access by Mr. Arafat’s wife, Suha, who used France’s strict privacy laws that give authority to the family.

Mr. Shaath was part of a senior Palestinian delegation led by Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and Mahmoud Abbas, the No. 2 man behind Mr. Arafat in the Palestine Liberation Organization. The group left for Jordan late yesterday after a 24-hour visit to the French capital.

A top Islamic cleric, Taissir Dayut Tamimi, was rushing to Mr. Arafat’s bedside. But Mr. Shaath dismissed speculation that the head of the Islamic court in the West Bank and Gaza Strip could advise on removing Mr. Arafat from life support. “No mufti in the world has the right to do that,” Mr. Shaath said.

The Palestinian deputy parliament speaker, Hassan Khreishe, said it had been decided that Mr. Arafat should be buried at his West Bank headquarters, known as the Muqata. Mr. Arafat was cooped up in his battered offices by Israel’s army for nearly three years, and the site has become a symbol to Palestinians of their resistance to Israeli occupation.

The decision was likely to head off a fight with Israel’s government over a grave site for Mr. Arafat. Palestinian officials had wanted to bury their leader in Jerusalem, which they claim as the capital of their envisioned state, but Israel refused.

A top aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Asaf Shariv, said the government would consider Ramallah as a burial site.

A Palestinian official stressed that a Ramallah grave would be considered temporary, with the ultimate goal being burial in Jerusalem. The official said the decision to create a burial shrine at the Muqata was made by Mr. Qureia and Mr. Abbas, the caretaker leaders during Mr. Arafat’s illness.

Egypt reportedly offered to host a funeral for Mr. Arafat in Cairo.

Mr. Shaath, in the first detailed description of Mr. Arafat’s treatment, said the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize winner was receiving breathing assistance from a respirator and getting nutrition intravenously.

A top Palestinian official, Tayeb Abdel Rahim, said Mr. Arafat had suffered a brain hemorrhage on Monday night, but Mr. Shaath said he could not confirm that. Scans showed that Mr. Arafat’s “brain remains sound,” the minister added. Such bleeding often causes brain damage.

The French medical team treating Mr. Arafat publicly acknowledged for the first time that he was in a coma, saying he had been comatose for a week.

Gen. Christian Estripeau, a spokesman for the Percy Military Training Hospital, declined to offer a prognosis, but said the deterioration in Mr. Arafat’s condition marked “a significant stage.”

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