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Arafat's Health Worsens


News about Yasser Arafat's exact condition remained unclear Thursday evening, following a series of contradictory reports over whether the Palestinian leader was dead or still alive at a medical hospital near Paris. An evening statement by French medical officials said he was alive. It was a day marked by confusion.

Throughout the day Thursday a series of conflicting reports from Israel, Brussels and the Percy military hospital in the Paris suburb of Clamart about Mr. Arafat's condition help sewed confusion over whether he was dead, clinically dead or alive but seriously ill.

Late Thursday afternoon, Christian Estripeau, the communications chief of France's military health services offered just a few terse words to reporters camped outside the Clamart hospital.

Mr. Estripeau said Mr. Arafat wasn't dead, but his situation has become more complicated.

But French and Palestinian sources quoted by a variety of news services said the Palestinian leader was clinically dead, and had to be kept alive with machines.

Earlier in the afternoon, an Israeli television station reported Mr. Arafat was dead. A French television station, LCI, quoted an unnamed French official describing Mr. Arafat as being in a, quote, "irreversible coma." And in Brussels, Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Junker told reporters the Palestinian leader was dead. Then he retracted his statement, saying that French President Jacques Chirac had told him Mr. Arafat was not dead.

The Elysee presidential palace reported that Mr. Chirac visited Mr. Arafat, and his wife Suha, in the military hospital.

Earlier in the day, Palestinian officials offered conflicting statements about the seriousness of Mr. Arafat's condition. Some denied he was in a coma, but said his situation was critical. But other unnamed officials told news agencies the Palestinian leader was indeed in a coma.

It's unclear just when more information will be coming out about Mr. Arafat's condition, either from the Clamart hospital or from Palestinian officials in the West Bank.

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