Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's confinement to a Paris hospital has given his wife, Suha, something she has never had in 14 years of marriage: Power and influence. And in the background, many believe, is a struggle for a fortune controlled solely by the ailing Palestinian leader.
Suha Arafat, a Christian convert to Islam who has lived apart from her husband for the past three years and is unpopular among many Palestinians, controls the flow of information over his illness and has kept some of Arafat's closest aides away from his bedside.
When the caretaker Palestinian leadership announced on Sunday that it will travel to Arafat's room at a military hospital outside Paris, Suha Arafat -- panic in her voice -- accused it of trying to depose her husband.
"You have to realize the size of the conspiracy. I tell you they are trying to bury Abu Ammar alive," a screaming Suha Arafat told the Arab television al-Jazeera in a telephone interview, using Arafat's nom de guerre in her first public comments since he was flown to the hospital 10 days ago.
Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a senior Arafat aide, called an urgent news conference early Monday to refute the claims.
"What came from Suha Arafat doesn't represent our people," he said, accusing her of wanting "to be the lone decision maker."
Palestinian Cabinet minister Salah Taamri said, "We are Yasser Arafat's family. We knew Yasser Arafat even before Mrs Suha Arafat was born. We care for Yasser Arafat and no one has the right to deny the truth from the Palestinian people."
The fight for control appeared to intensify on Monday evening when a hospital spokesman said visiting rights to Arafat were being restricted -- just as members of the Palestinian leadership were traveling to Paris to be at Arafat's side.
Suha Arafat seems to have aligned herself with hardliners who apparently seek to take over the Palestinian leadership in a post-Arafat era. But some Palestinian officials said her motives are more financial.
Suha Arafat, who was 28 when she secretly wed the Palestinian leader in 1990, is already wealthy and some Palestinian officials and analysts say Arafat sends her a generous stipend every month.
But Palestinians say that Arafat has stashed an enormous amount of money somewhere and if he dies he may take its secret location to the grave. Although no one has provided public proof, some observers cite figures in the billions of dollars.
"It appears to be a kind of conflict over money and properties, because Suha has no political position in the Palestinian system," Palestinian newspaper commentator Hani Masri said.
Suha Arafat's outburst initially prompted the postponement of the trip by Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath and Parliament Speaker Rauhi Fattouh. The four were to meet with the French doctors treating Yasser Arafat yesterday. It was still uncertain if they would be allowed to visit him to see for themselves what his true condition is.
Suha Arafat has been rejected by a great number of Palestinians as a spoiled socialite who chose life in Paris over standing by her 75-year-old husband's side in the devastated West Bank headquarters where he has been kept a virtual prisoner by Israel for some three years.
But his presence in Paris -- where Suha Arafat has lived much of her life -- has given her the legal authority under French law to be in charge, a power she would almost certainly have not wielded had he remained in Ramallah or been admitted to a hospital in an Arab country.