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Frail Arafat Heads to Paris for Treatment

Ailment Remains Unknown; Israel Said to Accept Return

By John Ward Anderson and Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, October 29, 2004; Page A01

JERUSALEM, Oct. 29 -- The Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, flew by helicopter out of his Ramallah compound early Friday to receive emergency medical treatment in Paris for an undetermined ailment that has left him weakened and unable to eat.

Several hundred Palestinian officials and security officers cheered and waved at Arafat, pressing against his car as he was driven the dozen yards from his offices and a makeshift medical clinic to a waiting Jordanian military helicopter inside his walled compound. The helicopter and an escort chopper lifted off in a swirl of rocks and debris under a leaden sky at 7:20 a.m. as his associates and employees waved an emotional farewell. He will be flown to Amman, the Jordanian capital, then will be taken by airplane to Paris, Palestinian officials said.


Nabil Abu Rdeneh, seated right, an adviser to Yasser Arafat, and Ashraf Kurdi, one of the Palestinian leader's physicians, address reporters at the compound in Ramallah. (Andrew Medichini -- AP)

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Video: The Associated Press reports on Arafat's health.
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Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, has guaranteed that Arafat, 75, will be allowed to return to Ramallah after medical procedures are completed, said Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian foreign minister. Arafat had not left his battered headquarters compound in the West Bank in more than two years.

"All his doctors agreed that he needs a hospital, someplace where all kinds of tests can be made safely and he can be a bit isolated from the millions of people who try to kiss him," Shaath said in a telephone interview Thursday from Amman, the capital of Jordan.

U.S. officials were consulted about Arafat's medical evacuation to Paris, Shaath said.

In Tel Aviv, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy said, "We understand that Israel will let him back, and we agree with that."

Shaath said that Arafat, whose condition has deteriorated dramatically in the past two weeks, had been examined by teams of doctors from Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan. But Shaath said the cause of his illness remained unknown.

Palestinian officials and Arafat associates say he has been unable to eat and suffers from vomiting and diarrhea. They have offered conflicting explanations for the symptoms, ascribing them at different times to a severe flu, an intestinal infection, gallstones and a blood disorder, possibly leukemia.

"Tests show he is suffering from weakness in blood platelets, but his health condition is good," one of Arafat's personal physicians, Ashraf Kurdi, told reporters at the Ramallah compound. He said Arafat did not have leukemia.

"His red blood cell count has gone down, but this happens when you've been two weeks without food," Shaath said. "He has a general weakness as a result of 16 days now with very, very, very little feeding, and he has been fasting on top of that" because of Muslim restrictions on eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset during the holy month of Ramadan.

"He is very weak, frail and pale," Shaath said.

Arafat's office released a video Thursday showing the Palestinian leader slumped in a chair wearing gray pajamas and a stocking cap. He was gaunt but smiling, and was surrounded by several doctors and bodyguards.

Arafat's wife, Suha, who lives in Paris, arrived at his compound Thursday night after receiving a special permit from Israel. It was reportedly her first visit with her husband in more than four years.

Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Sharon, said that Israel had agreed to allow Arafat to travel abroad for treatment because advanced medical facilities, such as MRI machines, are not available in the West Bank. He added that Arafat had refused to be treated in Israel.


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