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Arafat's Condition Subject to Conflicting Reports

There were conflicting reports Thursday about the state of Yasser Arafat's health. There was some speculation that he may have died, but the rumors were quickly denied by officials at the French military hospital where he is being treated and by Palestinian officials.

It's been a day of rumors and denials with Palestinian officials acknowledging only that Yasser Arafat's condition was serious and deteriorating. The evening news on Israeli TV reported that Mr. Arafat was clinically dead. That announcement was followed a few minutes later with a news agency report quoting the prime minister of Luxembourg saying Mr. Arafat had died.

A few minutes after that, a top medical official for the French defense forces, General Christian Estripeau, made this short statement. He says Mr. Arafat is not dead. He says, Mr. Arafat's clinical situation, in his words, has become more complex."

The Luxembourg prime minister later retracted his statement. Mr. Arafat was flown to a French military hospital outside of Paris last Friday after falling seriously ill from an undiagnosed ailment in his Ramallah compound. Yasser Abed Rabbo, former Palestinian Cabinet minister, had said earlier, Mr. Arafat's condition was serious.

"We are following up the conditions of President Arafat," he said. "He is receiving the needed treatment, the conditions are serious but they are not dangerous and the Palestinian leadership is following up these conditions every hour. And we hope that there will be positive news in the coming few hours."

The sense that Mr. Arafat's health was deteriorating Thursday was intensified when senior Palestinian officials rushed to the West Bank town of Ramallah for a series of emergency meetings.

Former Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas had planned to fly to Paris early Thursday morning but canceled the trip when told that he would not be allowed to see Mr. Arafat. Only a few family members and closest associates have been allowed in regularly to see him.

Israel's security officials focused on the Palestinian leader's condition during their weekly briefing Thursday. Israel is making contingency plans for Mr. Arafat's death and how to deal with a possible attempt to bury him in Jerusalem. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said he would never permit that to happen.

The Palestinian leader has long expressed the desire to be buried at the site known to Muslims as Haram a-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

Israeli security officials worry that a funeral procession through Jerusalem would bring huge crowds, and create a situation that would be hard, if not impossible, to control.

In anticipation of his death, Israel is also making contingency plans for how to handle the chaos that some predict will erupt, should various Palestinian factions begin fighting over who should succeed the Palestinian leader.