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Arafat in Coma; Funeral Arrangements Debated


Yasser Arafat is reported to be in a coma in a military hospital outside of Paris while officials discuss possible funeral arrangements, most importantly where the veteran Palestinian leader is to be laid to rest.

The Palestinian representative in France, Leila Shahid, denied persistent reports that Mr. Arafat is brain dead or on life support.

In an interview on France's RTL Radio, Leila Shahid said that doctors have described Mr. Arafat's condition as "serious." She said he's in a clinically induced coma that could be reversed. But, later in the interview she said that Mr. Arafat might wake up from his come or he might not.

Mr. Arafat was flown to France a week ago after he fell ill with severe stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhea. His illness has still not been diagnosed. Initial reports were that he seemed to be improving, but then he apparently took a turn for the worse on Wednesday. By Thursday he was said to be near death, slipping in and out of consciousness.

Early Friday morning Israel Radio carried a report saying that Mr. Arafat is clinically dead.

"Good morning, Boker-tov. It's 6:30 am in Israel. This is Idell Ross with the news. Both a Palestinian official and a medical source at the French military hospital outside Paris confirm that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat is clinically dead," the announcer said.

But in Paris, PLO Representative Leila Shahid accused Israel of spreading false information about Mr. Arafat's condition.

With Mr. Arafat's condition so uncertain, the question is being raised where to bury the 75-year-old leader if and when he dies. He has told associates he would like to buried in Jerusalem's Old City, something Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has ruled out.

A possible burial place being mentioned includes the Gaza Strip where the family has a burial plot.

Palestinian and Israeli security officials have held separate meetings to discuss the potentially volatile situation that could erupt after Mr. Arafat's death. Israel's security forces have been put on high alert and Israel Radio said authorities had begun restricting entry of Palestinians into Israel to those over 50 years of age.

This is Friday, the Muslim day of public prayer and Israel has often restricted entry of young Palestinian men in to avert potential trouble.

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