Israeli and Palestinian officials met today to begin planning for a future that may not include Yasser Arafat as news emerged in Paris that the 75-year-old Palestinian leader is in a coma in the intensive care unit of a French military hospital.
Palestinian officials confirmed Mr. Arafat's condition has worsened and they rushed to the West Bank town of Ramallah for 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 Mr. Arafat's cousin, U.N.-representative Nasser al-Kidwa and Leila Shahid, the PLO representative in France, have been allowed in regularly to see him.
Israel's security officials focused on the Palestinian leader's condition during their weekly briefing today. Israel is making contingency plans for after Mr. Arafat's death and on how they will 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.