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Palestinian leader Arafat 'between life and death'

Saturday, November 6, 2004

CLAMART, France -- Yasser Arafat was hovering "between life and death" in a coma Friday, no worse but also no better than he was a day earlier, according to Palestinian and French officials. There was still no official public diagnosis to explain the Palestinian leader's critical condition. Outside the French military hospital where the 75-year-old has been treated for the past week, well-wishers maintained a worried vigil. A hospital spokesman, who on Thursday denied reports that Arafat was dead, re-emerged late Friday afternoon to issue a short update, saying, "The state of President Yasser Arafat's health has not worsened."

It is considered stable since the previous health bulletin," Gen. Christian Estripeau said. He took no questions.

Earlier, Leila Shahid, the Palestinian envoy to France, strongly denied persistent French and Israeli media reports that Arafat was being kept alive on life support.

"I can assure you that there is no brain death," Shahid told French RTL radio. "He is in a coma. We don't know the type but it's a reversible coma. ... Today we can say that, given his condition and age, he is at a critical point between life and death."

Arafat supporters remained on edge, day and night, outside the sprawling concrete, metal and glass hospital. In an unusual moment, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi from New York left flowers for Arafat at the front gate.

A forest of television cameras and TV trucks, generators humming, satellite dishes pointing skyward, ran the length of the street outside, which was guarded by dozens of police.

Supporters hung a large, bed sheet-sized Palestinian flag on the hospital's perimeter wall alongside messages of support.

"The intefadah will win," said one poster, using the Arabic term for the Palestinian uprising against Israel. "A resister never dies," declared another. The sidewalk was covered with melted candle wax, and roses were placed at the foot of a poster of Arafat.

In Gaza City, Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath voiced concern that there had been no notable improvement.

"He's in critical condition, he's not improving and that's what is really causing our anxiety," he told Associated Press Television News. "We don't have a proper diagnosis yet. We don't know why this situation is, but it is not deteriorating either."

Since Arafat was airlifted to the French hospital in southwest Paris from the West Bank on Oct. 29, his condition has largely remained a mystery.

Shahid suggested the coma occurred after he was put under anesthesia to have additional medical tests, including an endoscopy, colonoscopy and a biopsy of the spinal cord.


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