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Arafat Critically Ill, but Condition Not Deteriorating

Palestinian Leader in a 'Reversible Coma'

By Glenn Frankel and John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, November 5, 2004; 2:50 PM

PARIS, Nov. 5 -- Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat remained critically ill and unconscious at a military hospital near here Friday, but hospital officials said his condition had not deteriorated.

Christian Estripeau, a French military spokesman at Percy hospital southwest of Paris, said Arafat "has not gotten worse," but he did not elaborate, the Associated Press reported.

Earlier in the day Leila Shadid, the Palestinian envoy to France, told French RTL radio that Arafat lost consciousness after receiving anesthesia for additional medical tests and said he was in a "reversible coma."

"Today we can say that, given his condition and age, he is at a critical point between life and death," Shadid said.

A former adviser to Arafat, who asked not to be further identified, said Thursday that the Palestinian leader was being supported by a respirator. "He is in very, very critical condition -- he's not breathing by himself," said the former adviser, speaking from Arafat's damaged headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator with Israel and one of Arafat's longtime advisers, also said Thursday that he had spoken by phone to members of Arafat's entourage outside Paris. The word was that Arafat's situation was difficult and that he was not improving, Erekat said.

Earlier, Erekat said he had talked to Arafat's wife, Suha Arafat, who had described her husband's condition as "stable but difficult." Erekat said she told him that reports Arafat was in a coma were "not true. She told me he is not in a coma."

Other Palestinian leaders, who gathered in an emergency session at Arafat's Ramallah compound Thursday, also denied reports in the Israeli news media that Arafat was brain-dead and on life support. "Arafat has no type of brain death," Arafat's personal physician, Ashraf Kurdi, told al-Arabiya television.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon gave permission last week for Arafat to be flown here for emergency care and diagnostic tests after the Palestinian leader had complained of nausea, stomach cramps and other ailments. Palestinian officials at first said he was suffering only from intestinal flu, but later conceded his condition was more serious.

After a few days of improvement, Arafat slipped in and out of consciousness on Wednesday, and officials said he had deteriorated to the point where he had been transferred to an intensive care unit.

French President Jacques Chirac paid a 30-minute visit to the hospital Thursday afternoon and saw Arafat and his wife, "to whom he expressed his best wishes," Chirac's office said. The president also met with Palestinian officials and Arafat's medical team, "who are doing everything possible for the health of the president," according to Chirac's office.

As midnight approached Thursday, a few dozen Palestinians and sympathizers bearing flags and candles gathered outside the sealed-off hospital complex in a silent vigil.

"I am here because I need reassurance," said Noha Rashma, a 54-year-old Palestinian schoolteacher. "President Arafat is dying and I am here for him."

Anderson and correspondent Molly Moore reported from Jerusalem. Special correspondent Maria Gabriella Bonetti in Clamart, France, contributed to this report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company