Mon, Nov 01, 2004 - Page 1 News List

French doctors test Arafat, but say condition `curable'

AFP , PARIS

Ailing Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's condition is "curable," officials said yesterday as French doctors carried out further tests to determine whether he is fit to stay on as Palestinian Authority president.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian parliament and national security council met in emergency session, presenting a business-as-usual picture to the world amid fears that political chaos could ensue should Arafat fail to recover.

But top Arafat advisor Nabil Abu Rudeina tried to allay those fears, saying: "I can assure you that he is not suffering from leukemia or any serious problem. His situation is curable, and we hope that he will recover soon."

Arafat -- the symbol of the Palestinian struggle for statehood for 40 years -- was dramatically evacuated from his Ramallah headquarters on Friday and flown to Paris aboard a French government jet to receive treatment.

The frail 75-year-old Palestinian leader was undergoing a battery of tests at the Percy military hospital in the southwestern Paris suburb of Clamart to determine the nature of what is believed to be a serious blood disorder.

In Ramallah, Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said Arafat had eaten his first meal since being admitted to hospital -- corn flakes, tea and milk.

French and Palestinian officials said a diagnosis of Arafat's condition would not likely be known until Wednesday.

"His condition is better than expected," Abu Rudeina said.

When asked about the nature of Arafat's illness, the advisor replied: "I am not a doctor, but all options are being considered including poisoning. It is up to the French doctors. He is under the full control of the French doctors."

Another of Arafat's aides, Mohammed Rashid, said it was unclear how long Arafat would remain in hospital, adding: "The situation will become more clear after the announcement of the test results expected Wednesday."

One of Arafat's doctors said last week that his white blood cells were destroying platelets, which are needed for blood clotting. Specialists said such symptoms could indicate a range of conditions, from a virus to cancer.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier defended President Jacques Chirac's decision to allow Arafat to seek treatment in France, saying: "We have welcomed him. I think it's completely normal."

Barnier also delivered the message that Paris expected Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to make good on his pledge to allow Arafat to return home to Ramallah after being treated.

"I've heard the formal assurances given by the Israelis that Yasser Arafat will be able to return to Ramallah, and I think that is indeed the case," Barnier said in an interview with France Inter radio.

But Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who has frequently called for Arafat's expulsion, made it clear that he wanted the Jewish state to be rid of the Palestinian Authority president permanently.

Sharon said yesterday at the weekly Israeli Cabinet meeting that he was prepared to open negotiations with a new Palestinian leadership "which is both serious and responsible," should one emerge.

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