Palestinian officials say Yasser Arafat's health has deteriorated sharply since Wednesday, and there are reports the Palestinian leader has drifted in and out of a coma in recent hours.

Palestinian officials have given conflicting accounts of Mr. Arafat's condition. Some say the Palestinian leader is now in a critical state. He remains in a military hospital outside Paris, where he arrived last Friday for tests and treatment of a still undisclosed ailment.

Earlier this week, the Palestinian envoy to France, Laila Shahid, told reporters that doctors have ruled out leukemia. Doctors treating Mr. Arafat in France have so far declined to comment on his condition. Some Palestinian officials have told news agencies that Mr. Arafat's health has deteriorated in recent hours, however.

But others, including Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat have dismissed as erroneous, reports that Mr. Araft has lapsed into a coma and his vital organs are failing. Mr. Erekat told reporters that he had spoken by telephone to Mr. Arafat's wife, Soha, who told him that the Palestinian leader was in serious but stable condition.

Earlier this week, Palestinian officials said Mr. Arafat's condition had improved, and that he was sitting up and eating. Palestinian officials also made public a statement in Arafat's name Wednesday congratulating President Bush for his re-election, and said he expressed hope the U.S. leader would reinvigorate the Middle East peace process.

The French news agency, Agence France-Presse, reported from the West Bank that former Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has canceled plans to visit Mr. Arafat in Paris.

Reports of Mr. Arafat's deteriorating condition have touched off widespread speculation about who might succeed him should he die. The 75-year-old Palestinian leader has not named his successor.