Arafat's condition improving, but further tests needed

Monday, November 1, 2004

PARIS -- Yasser Arafat telephoned colleagues in the West Bank, read telegrams from well-wishing world leaders, ate cereal and sipped tea Sunday, his aides said -- signs that the Palestinian leader's health may be on the upswing following three days of urgent treatment for an undisclosed illness at a French military hospital.

There was still no explanation for what caused the recent deterioration in his condition, although Palestinian officials say Arafat's low blood platelet count is not due to leukemia.

Doctors have not said what might be causing the deficiency, although Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said all types of cancer had been ruled out. However, no doctors or other specialists have publicly confirmed that conclusion.

Doctors were now running tests to determine whether Arafat was suffering from a viral infection, poisoning or some other malady, Palestinian aides said on condition of anonymity. They did not elaborate on what kind of poisoning they meant. Arafat's doctors in Ramallah last week said toxicology tests ruled out poisoning.

The 75-year-old Arafat's condition has improved markedly since he was rushed Friday from his besieged Ramallah headquarters in the West Bank to the hospital southwest of Paris, Palestinians said. Arafat ate a normal breakfast, Shaath said from Ramallah in the West Bank.

'Really much better'

"He's much better, he's really much better, and he's more cheerful," Shaath said. "He's less tired and we are awaiting a final assessment by the French doctors about the diagnosis."

Palestinian officials gave conflicting reports on when results from further tests were expected. Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said a medical report would be issued by early Tuesday. Mohammed Rashid, a close Arafat aide, said results were due Wednesday.

"Arafat does not have leukemia," said Rashid. "It's been ruled out. Rule it out."

Platelets are blood components that aid clotting. A low count indicates a possible problem with the bone marrow, where blood cells are made. There are many causes of platelet decline, ranging in severity from minor to life-threatening.

French physicians gave Arafat a platelet transfusion after his transfer to the Hopital d'Instruction des Armees de Percy, a military training hospital that specializes in blood disorders and trauma care.

Arafat has been ill for two weeks with what was initially described as bad flu. The Palestinian leader's symptoms included vomiting and diarrhea. He took a turn for the worse Wednesday when he collapsed and briefly lost consciousness.

Arafat spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh said Arafat is expected to recover, and spent part of Sunday catching up on international and Arab events and reading summaries of telegrams from world leaders who wished him well.

"He is not suffering from any serious problem -- his situation is curable; he will recover very soon. It is better than expected," Abu Rdeneh said.

In the West Bank, Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad told The Associated Press that Arafat sounded coherent and alert during a five-minute telephone conversation Sunday.

"This phone call is clear proof that President Arafat is fully aware of what is going on around him," Fayyad said.

Leila Shahid, the Palestinian envoy to France, said Arafat had received messages of support from a number of world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, French President Jacques Chirac, Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Chinese President Hu Jintao. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell telephoned his Palestinian counterpart, Shaath, in the West Bank.

Arafat also spoke with former Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan, who accompanied him on the flight from Ramallah, Dahlan's office said from Gaza.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Sunday that Israel will not allow Arafat to be buried in Jerusalem if he dies. The Palestinian leader has said he wants to be buried at the Jerusalem holy site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Haram as-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary.

Israel has marked a possible burial site for Arafat in the Jerusalem suburb of Abu Dis, in the West Bank, security officials said.

Senior intelligence officials and representatives from the foreign and defense ministries briefed the Israeli Cabinet on Arafat's health and possible scenarios if he becomes incapacitated or dies.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Israel's army would "demonstrate restraint" in military operations in the West Bank and Gaza until the Palestinian leadership situation became clear.

Associated Press writer Scheherezade Faramarzi contributed to this report.

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