Aides say Arafat has taken turn for worse

Thursday, November 4, 2004

PARIS -- Yasser Arafat, hospitalized in France with a mystery ailment, was rushed to intensive care after suffering a setback and was undergoing a new round of tests, Palestinian officials said early today.

The two officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the 75-year-old Arafat's condition had seriously deteriorated over the past day, adding that doctors who have been examining him since Friday still don't know the cause of his illness.

More details were expected at a previously scheduled news conference this afternoon at the French military hospital where Arafat is being treated.

Efforts to reach Leila Shahid, the Palestinian envoy to France who has been serving as his official spokeswoman in Paris, were unsuccessful early today. French hospital and military officials refused to comment.

Mohammed Dahlan, a former Palestinian security chief in Paris with a group of Arafat aides, denied that Arafat's condition has worsened. "The president's condition is stable," he told reporters.

Arafat, who has been ill for three weeks, was flown to the French military hospital on Friday after passing out briefly at his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah.

He was initially said to be suffering a bad case of flu, with symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea. Doctors later found so-far-unexplained blood and digestive abnormalities.

Palestinian officials insist publicly that leukemia or any other form of cancer, as well as any type of poisoning, had been ruled out.

Undoubtedly conscious of the anxiety at home about the possible death of Arafat -- who has led the Palestinians for 40 years without grooming an obvious successor, Palestinian aides had previously said he was improving and undergoing further tests.

In Israel, speculation has ranged from a viral infection to stomach cancer.

His brother, Fathi Arafat, is hospitalized in Cairo, Egypt, with an advanced stomach cancer, according to doctors there.

On Wednesday, Shahid said Arafat felt well enough to ask about the U.S. presidential election. An aide later issued a statement in Arafat's name congratulating President Bush on his re-election.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Israel is tracking Arafat's health "very carefully.

"Our goal is to prepare for the day after, if and when he dies," he told Israel Radio.

Israeli intelligence was widely criticized after it was caught off guard last week by the sudden deterioration in Arafat's health.

Shalom said Arafat's condition "is very serious," but gave no details. At the same time, he said, "it is too soon to eulogize Yasser Arafat."

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