Doctors in Ramallah fighting to save Arafat's life

Amos Harel and Arnon Regular


Cheshvan 13, 5765

Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's health has deteriorated and he is in critical condition, Palestinian sources said on Wednesday night. The sources went on to say that a team of doctors in his Ramallah headquarters were fighting for his life. According to some reports, the PA chairman regained consciousness, though he was suffering from hallucinations.

A team of doctors, some from Tunisia, Jordan, and the director of the Ramallah hospital arrived at the Muqata in Ramallah to treat Arafat. Arafat's personal physician, Dr. Ashraf Al-Kurdi, is scheduled to arrive from Jordan. Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz also permitted five Egyptian doctors to examine Arafat in Ramallah, following a request by Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

A Palestinian cabinet minister said Wednesday night that Arafat is "very, very sick," and that a team of Jordanian doctors was urgently summoned to examine him. Earlier Wednesday, Mofaz approved a PA request to allow Jordanian doctors to examine Arafat. Mofaz granted permission to transfer Arafat to a hospital in Ramallah, if need be. Officials also said Arafat's wife, Suha, and daughter Zuhawa, who live in France, were expected to arrive in Ramallah on Thursday.

Another official said that Arafat had collapsed Wednesday, was unconscious for about ten minutes and remained in "very difficult situation."

Israeli officials speculated early Thursday that Arafat had suffered a stroke.

An ambulance and a team of doctors, including the director of the Ramallah hospital, arrived at his headquarters to check on him.

Israel will let Arafat go for treatment anywhere he chooses, whether at home or abroad, officials said on Wednesday.

"He can go for treatment anywhere he wants, in or out of the country," said one senior official, but added that the question of whether Arafat could return after was "a separate issue after he recuperates."

One senior Palestinian official said that Arafat was unconscious when he saw him Wednesday night, but it was unclear whether he was sleeping, had been sedated or was in a coma, the official said on condition of anonymity. Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo denied reports that Arafat had lost consciousness.

Senior Palestinian officials, including current Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, and the heads of various Palestinian security forces, are currently in his headquarters.

Arafat spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh told reporters that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah had offered to send medical teams Thursday for follow-up checks.

Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said he had seen the 75-year-old leader earlier on Wednesday, and that Arafat "was still recovering from stomach flu."

Arafat's foreign minister, Nabil Shaath, said on Tuesday that the PA Chairman was in pain because of serious "intestinal flu" but doctors flown in from Egypt and Tunisia expected him to be feeling much better in a few days.

Confined to his battered headquarters in Ramallah for the past two years by the Israel Defense Forces, Arafat underwent a minor diagnostic procedure on Monday after complaining of stomach pains. Palestinian officials said then that an endoscopy found no serious ailment but the president remained weak.

Shaath said the doctors had ruled out stomach cancer.

Questions about Arafat's health have raised Palestinian fears of a bloody succession struggle after his death. He has never picked a successor.