Arafat in deep coma, 'between life and death'

5th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

CLAMART, France, Nov 5 (AFP) - Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat appeared close to death at a military clinic outside Paris Friday, as the Middle East prepared for the passing of one of the region's historic figures.

CLAMART, France, Nov 5 (AFP) - Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat appeared close to death at a military clinic outside Paris Friday, as the Middle East prepared for the passing of one of the region's historic figures.

After a series of conflicting rumours over his state of health, the Palestinian spokeswoman in France Leila Shahid was the first of his entourage to admit that his end may be approaching.

"He is between life and death. He could wake up, but he could not wake up," Shahid told RTL radio Thursday morning.

However she "categorically denied" a previous report from a French medical source that the ailing 75 year-old was in a deep coma and being kept alive only by life support equipment.

The coma was such that Arafat could stay in it "a long time" or "come out of it," she said.

Palestinian leaders have kept up a consistently optimistic front since Arafat was transferred to the Percy military hospital in the Paris suburb of Clamart a week ago, but French medical officials have been more gloomy.

Hundreds of journalists were camped outside the hospital Friday waiting for definitive news about the veteran chief, whose face has been synonymous with the fight for Palestinian indendnce for nearly four decades. Supporters holding a candle-lit vigil dispersed at dawn.

In the Middle East Palestinians and Israelis were poised for news of Arafat's death, with the question of his succession becoming a matter of urgency. Commentators predicted that two veteran colleagues of Arafat in the PLO - former Palestinian prime minister Mahmud Abbas and his successor Ahmed Qorei - were most likely to take his place in an interim leadership.

In some foreign capitals - notably in Washington where President George W. Bush dropped Arafat as a peace partner - hopes were being expressed tacitly that his disappearance from the scene could give a new boost to the search for peace with Israel.

French doctors have been trying to diagnose the blood disorder from which Arafat was suffering when he was airlifted from his headquarters in Ramallah on October 29.

After a series of optimistic reports from his entourage, on Wednesday it was revealed that his condition had deteriorated sharply and that he was in the intensive care unit.

A French medical source then told AFP late Thursday that Arafat was "brain dead" and breathing only thanks to artificial life support systems.

But Friday morning Shahid said that all of Arafat's "vital organs" were functioning, adding that he had "opened his eyes and smiled" during a visit to the hospital by French President Jacques Chirac on Thursday afternoon.

Arafat is in a "reversible coma because he was put under anaesthetic so that the necessary tests could be carried out, in other words an endoscopy, a coloscopy, biopsy of his spine marrow - because we still have no diagnosis," she said.

© AFP

Subject: French News

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