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Yasser Arafat Arrives in France for Treatment

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has arrived in Paris for urgent medical treatment.

A French government jet carrying Mr. Arafat and medical personnel who are treating him, touched down at a military base near Paris early Friday afternoon. The frail Palestinian leader was then whisked to a military hospital outside the French capital for medical tests.

It is unclear what ails the 75-year-old leader. Palestinian officials have said Mr. Arafat is suffering from intestinal problems, the flu, or simply is in need of rest. His doctors say his blood platelet count is low, but his personal physician has ruled out leukemia.

Mr. Arafat's health is said to have seriously deteriorated over the last few days. Nevertheless he stood up briefly from his wheelchair, smiled and waved, before being put on a stretcher in the jet that flew him from Amman to Paris. News media quoted him as saying, "God willing, I will come back."

Mr. Arafat's condition has touched off a flurry of speculation about the future of the Palestinian leader and his possible successor. The Palestinian leader went to Amman by helicopter from his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, which he has not left since 2001.

Israel blames Mr. Arafat for sparking the Israeli-Palestinian violence that began four years ago, after peace talks failed, and the government had previously indicated Mr. Arafat might not be permitted to return if he went abroad.

But Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia told France Info radio that Israeli officials had given assurances that Mr. Arafat could return from treatment abroad.

Mr. Qureia said that Israel had sent a letter saying that it would put no obstacles in the way of Mr. Arafat's return, because it considers Mr. Arafat's condition a humanitarian issue.

Mr. Arafat was accompanied by his wife Suha, who lives in Paris, and flew to Ramallah Thursday. The two had not seen each other since 2001.

France has long had close relations with the Palestinian Authority.

French President Jacques Chirac has sent get-well wishes to Mr. Arafat. Unlike the United States and Israel, France continues to maintain a dialogue with the Palestinian leader, who Paris believes remains a key figure in the Middle East peace process.