JERUSALEM, Nov. 8 -- Senior Palestinian leaders flew to Paris Monday to assess the health of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
They had hesitated briefly after Arafat's wife launched a tirade on an Arabic satellite television network accusing the officials of "trying to bury" him alive.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's wife, Suha, on her way to Ramallah last month.
(Sebastian Scheiner - AFP File Photo)
The emotional attack by Suha Arafat in a telephone call to the al-Jazeera network early Monday morning outraged Palestinian leaders who had been attempting to portray an atmosphere of governmental stability since Arafat, 75, was flown to a military hospital outside of France 11 days ago for emergency medical treatment.
Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, the temporary head of the Palestinian Authority, and Mahmoud Abbas, acting chief of the Palestine Liberation Organization, were flying to Paris Monday "to really find out his condition," according to the Palestinian foreign minister, Nabil Shaath.
[But as Qureia and Abbas were on their way, a spokesman for the military hospital where Arafat is being treated said the Palestinian leader's "medical situation . . . compels us to restrict visitors" to him, the Associated Press reported from Paris. In a brief statement, Gen. Christian Estripeau said Arafat was in stable condition, but he did not take any questions. It remained unclear whether the restriction would keep Qureia and Abbas away from Arafat.]
"You have to realize the size of the conspiracy," Suha Arafat screamed during her call. "I tell you they are trying to bury Abu Ammar alive," a reference to Arafat's nom de guerre.
"He is all right, and he is going home," she continued. She described her outburst as "an appeal to the Palestinian people."
Her accusations infuriated officials already frustrated that Arafat's wife has refused to divulge details of their seriously ailing leader's condition.
"They are angry with Suha and don't want to go," Tayeb Abdel Rahim, a senior Arafat aide told reporters at a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah. "What came from Suha doesn't represent our people. If the president were to hear that, he would reject it completely."
He added that Arafat's wife "wanted to destroy the Palestinian leadership's decision and to be the lone decision-maker."
The senior officials hope the visit will "allay the extreme anxiety going on here because of a lot of disinformation," Shaath said in a telephone interview Sunday. "It has been said that he died, that he is suffering from brain damage, liver damage -- all of that is untrue. The man is in critical condition, but it is not deteriorating."
Arafat was flown to Paris on Oct. 29, suffering from a life-threatening medical condition. Doctors have not released details of his illness. Suha Arafat has restricted access to her husband and to information about his health, provoking dismay among Palestinian officials, according to Arafat associates who accompanied him to Paris.
Shaath said Arafat is suffering from a loss of blood platelets that has left him weak, but that doctors have not determined what is causing the loss.
French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier, asked in an interview with LCI television on Sunday about Arafat's health, said that "he is alive," adding, "His condition is very complex, very serious and stable right now." Asked to respond to reports that Arafat is brain-dead, Barnier replied, "I wouldn't say that."
Israeli officials, meanwhile, said warnings about potential attacks against Israelis by militant groups have decreased in the past week as interim Palestinian leaders have pleaded with the organizations to curb anti-Israeli violence and unrest in the Palestinian territories while Arafat is struggling for his life.
"It seems the old guard has taken matters to hand, and it appears they are controlling the situation," Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Sunday during the weekly cabinet meeting, according to Israeli news accounts. "It appears they are calling for a united stance and an end to Hamas terror. However, there is no guarantee they will be successful."
Mofaz told the ministers that "there has been a certain decrease in the scope of the warnings," the cabinet reported in a communique released after the session, but added that general warnings of attacks in Israel continue.
Correspondent Glenn Frankel in Paris contributed to this report.