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Palestinian Officials Check Arafat's Condition


A senior Palestinian official told reporters in Paris Tuesday that Yasser Arafat was still alive and dismissed suggestions the Palestinian leader might be taken off life support machines at a hospital outside the French capital.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath told reporters in Paris Tuesday evening that Mr. Arafat was still alive, albeit in critical condition.

"His situation has deteriorated, especially since last night," said Mr. Shaath. "But since last Wednesday he has been in a coma. Having said that and having recognized the critical situation President Arafat is in today, his brain, his heart and his lungs still function and he is alive."

Mr. Shaath also dismissed rumors that the 75-year-old Palestinian leader would be taken off life support, adding the idea of euthanasia had also been ruled out.

Mr. Shaath's description of Mr. Arafat's condition offered only a few more details than an earlier statement issued by doctors treating the Palestinian leader at the Percy Military Hospital outside Paris. That statement said Mr. Arafat's condition had declined sharply overnight, that he was in a deep coma, but that he was still alive.

It is still unclear what is wrong with Mr. Arafat. French privacy laws give his wife, Suha, the right to withhold medical information about his condition. But Mr. Shaath suggested his three-year detention in his West Bank office contributed to Mr. Arafat's illness.

"The doctors, by and large, favor the explanation that his age, 75 years old, a very difficult life, the last three-and-a-half years incarcerated in a very small office which had very little oxygen and which had a very bad sanitary situation and siege by the Israeli army have contributed to a variety of digestive track ailments," he added.

Palestinian officials have reportedly asked a top Islamic cleric to fly to Paris to be at Mr. Arafat's bedside. And Israeli and Palestinian officials are reportedly arguing over where he can be buried.

Earlier in the day, there were again conflicting reports about whether Mr. Arafat was alive or dead. News agencies quoted unnamed Palestinian sources saying the Palestinian leader had died, only to have those reports rebutted by Palestinian and French medical officials.

Mr. Shaath and three other top Palestinian officials arrived in Paris Monday night to check on Mr. Arafat's condition over the objections of his wife, Suha. In addition to meeting Mr. Arafat's doctors, they held talks with French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier, and with French President Jacques Chirac.

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