Arafat flies to Paris for treatment Friday

28th October 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Oct 29 (AFP) - Ailing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was en route by plane Friday to a French military hospital outside Paris for urgent medical treatment of what is said to be a potentially fatal blood disorder.

PARIS, Oct 29 (AFP) - Ailing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was en route by plane Friday to a French military hospital outside Paris for urgent medical treatment of what is said to be a potentially fatal blood disorder.

A French defence ministry spokesman said the plane carrying the 75-year-old was expected to arrive at noon (1000 GMT) at the military base in Villacoublay southwest of the French capital after a four-hour flight from Jordan.

Arafat will go to the Percy military hospital at nearby Clamart, "where he will be treated at the request of the Palestinian authorities," the ministry said. Arafat, the symbol of the Palestinian struggle for statehood, was initially diagnosed with severe influenza, but one of his doctors told AFP that further tests revealed a disorder in which his white blood cells were destroying blood platelets needed for blood clotting.

Such an illness could signal an advanced stage of cancer, he and other medical specialists said, and could result in internal bleeding.

Wearing a dark green military overcoat and a fur hat instead of his trademark chequered keffiyeh headdress, Arafat was carried out of his Ramallah compound in the West Bank to a helicopter that took him to a military airport in the Jordanian capital Amman.

There, he blew kisses to the waiting throngs and appeared in good spirits, chatting to officials in the crowd around him before boarding a small Dassault Falcon jet chartered by France.

It is the first time Arafat has left the Palestinian territories for nearly three years. He has been effectively kept under house arrest at his Ramallah compound known as the Muqataa by Israel troops engaged against a four-year-old Palestinian uprising, or intifada.

Israel, which has declared Arafat an obstacle to peace and threatened to kill him several times, has indicated that it will allow the Palestinian leader to return to Ramallah after treatment in the French capital.

Palestinian sources said Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qorei and former premier Mahmud Abbas, number two in Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), would take charge of the Palestinian Authority in Arafat's absence.

France's decision to treat the Palestinian leader underlined the support Paris has shown him in the past, sometimes to the chagrin of Israel and the United States.

President Jacques Chirac Thursday made public a letter addressed to Arafat in which he wrote "to express my deepest sympathy and warmest wishes for your recovery."

He added: "France, as you know, backs the aspiration you embody for the creation of a viable, prosperous and peaceful Palestinian state alongside a state of Israel assured of its security."

French officials have regularly visited Arafat in his Ramallah compound, and in June, Foreign Minister Michel Barnier cancelled a trip to Israel after it refused permission to see him.

The first time France stepped in to save the head of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was in 1982, when French soldiers helped him leave the Lebanese capital Beirut for Athens while Israeli forces closed in.

Arafat first visited Paris in 1989, to see then president Francois Mitterrand six months after the PLO agreed to recognise the state of Israel and open official talks with the United States.

A close relationship has continued with Chirac, whose government has frequently made public statements calling for peace in the Middle East and backed ambitions for a Palestinian state.

Arafat's wife Suha also lives in Paris with the couple's nine-year-old daughter Wahwa.

France's main newspapers headlined Arafat's imminent arrival, with the Liberation daily saying that the turn of events has brought into relief what it called the paradox of the Palestinian leader.

"When things are going badly for him, this man, who embodies the Palestinian struggle, grows in importance," it said, while his incapacity to rule on the basis of the Oslo accords and missed opportunities to take steps towards peace are forgotten.

Today, "nobody is betting on the chances of peace coming about, because everyone also fears that, without Arafat, the future will hold even more chaos."


Subject: French News

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