Palestinian President Yasser Arafat is in a coma but is not brain dead, his spokeswoman said yesterday, acknowledging the ailing Pales-tinian leader was "between life and death."
Doctors still had no diagnosis, but anxious Palestinian officials were already looking for ways to prevent unrest if their 75-year-old leader dies.
Leila Shahid, the Palestinian envoy to France, strongly denied persistent reports in French and Israeli media that the 75-year-old 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."
At the Percy Military Training Hospital outside Paris, a dozen supporters continued to hold a vigil yesterday for the man who many Palestinians revere but Israel and the US have shunned as a terrorist.
"You [are] always in our hearts," one sign said. Another evoked the failed 1990s peace process: "The man of peace who reached out to Yitzhak Rabin."
Small candles flickered and a bouquet of roses lay on a portrait of Arafat on the ground.
In Gaza City, Palestinian For-eign Minister Nabil Shaath denied that Arafat was clinically dead or on a life support system, but voiced concern that there had been no notable improvement.
"He's in a critical condition, he's not improving and that's what is really causing our anxiety," he said. "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 on Oct. 29 to a French military hospital from the West Bank, his condition has largely remained a mystery.
French physicians on Thursday said only that he had been rushed to intensive care after his condition became "more complex," and that he had been moved to a specialist unit there "adapted to his pathology."
They did not say what that pathology was.
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.
"He may or may not wake up," Shahid said, adding that "all vital organs are functioning."
Adding to the uncertainty, Israeli Justice Minister Yosef Lapid said yesterday that the Palestinian leader was being kept alive artificially, but his source was not clear.