Arafat's wife under fire, clashes with PA chiefs

9th November 2004, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Nov 9 (AFP) - Suha Arafat, the wife of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, has held a covetous vigil in the military hospital where her husband may lie dying, protected by a French law that has let her shoulder her way into the Palestinian power politics.

PARIS, Nov 9 (AFP) - Suha Arafat, the wife of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, has held a covetous vigil in the military hospital where her husband may lie dying, protected by a French law that has let her shoulder her way into the Palestinian power politics.

The four-man Palestinian delegation of Arafat's top lieutenants including prime ministers Ahmed Qorei who finally made it Tuesday into Percy hospital in Clamart, outside Paris, nearly cancelled their visit to see the 75-year-old Arafat for themselves after Suha objected, accusing them of wanting to "bury him alive" to inherit power.

The allegation brought even more scorn down on Suha, 41, who has stirred discord throughout their 14-year marriage and is accused of living comfortably in Paris while Palestinians shed their blood in the intifada (uprising).

Her bedside watch has fuelled the ire of those quick to note she had not even seen her husband for three years until flying late last month to his besieged West Bank headquarters to accompany him to France for treatment.

Once here, however, Suha, as the spouse - and not the usual Palestinian spokeswoman in Paris Leila Shahid, had sole control under the French penal code over any disclosure of his medical condition.

Whether the stakes be love, power, money - a frequent charge - or revenge, Suha has invoked the full weight of the law and propelled herself into the succession debate.

The result since Arafat was airlifted on October 29 suffering from an undiagnosed blood disorder has been a series of vague, contradictory health updates that at one point even had the Palestinian leader "dead".

On Tuesday, an official bulletin said he had slipped into a "deeper coma" overnight.

Later, an official at the army medical service said that Arafat "is not dead."

"The statement made public by General Christian Estripeau is still valid at 3:30 pm," he said.

Two senior Palestinian officals Nasser el-Qidwa and Leila Shahid also denied that Arafat was dead.

However in Ramallah a member of the Palestinian cabinet said that Arafat was dead, and that there was disagreement over when to make the announcement.

Former Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas said Tuesday after seeing Arafat in the Percy hospital that the condition of the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was "very serious".

Percy hospital's head doctor General Christian Estripeau has refused to comment on Arafat's chances and conceded that French laws on medical secret were particularly "restrictive".

"It's either she (Suha) who asks me to make a statement, or me who suggests to her that we do," he said.

Suha's tight control over matters is said to be an embarrassment for French authorities required to uphold the law, though French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier skirted the issue Tuesday when asked about the Palestinian delegation.

"I think it is understandable that they want to meet and pay their respects to Yasser Arafat," he said, but added quickly, "we also understand the pain and pressure bearing down on her (Suha) at this time."

Suha, who lives with the couple's sole child, a daughter, Zahwa, born in 1995, is notably accused of trying to quietly gain control over finances Arafat reportedly has at his disposal - a sum the US magazine Forbes has speculated could total 300 million dollars though Palestinian leaders have always rejected the claims.

The daughter of a friend of Arafat, Palestinian journalist and writer Raymonda Tawill who hails from a well-off Ramallah clan, Suha inherited a relentless devotion to the struggle from her firebrand mother and never strayed from fierce loyalty to Arafat's dream of a Palestinian state.

But her Western ways and penchant for luxury leave her detested and denounced by the Palestinian rank and file as a "gold digger" and "deserter", since leaving the territories in 2001 after the intifada broke out.

The Palestinian press has dubbed her "Miss Moneybags". One Palestinian leader, who asked not to be named, charged, "She is just trying to confuse the issue to get her hands on the president's personal fortune before he dies."

Last year, France opened a preliminary investigation into the transfer of large sums of money from Switzerland to Paris bank accounts she owns.

Sources said the transfers totalled EUR 11.5 million (USD 14.8 million) deposited into her accounts at BNP and the Arab Bank between July 2002 and July 2003.

The Israeli paper Haaretz on Monday reported the International Monetary Fund had found a USD 778 million "hole" in the accounts of the Palestinian Authority, and no paper trail of any money paid on taxes.

Donor countries have repeatedly urged the Palestinian leadership to enact reforms to give greater transparency to their finances.

Palestinian foreign minister Farouk Kaddoumi, one of the few leaders who has actually saw Arafat, said Suha's statements showed she "may have lost control of herself".

Another PLO leader, Yasser Abed Rabbo, accused her of seeking "personal privileges" by "hiding behind French law to prevent anyone, including our leaders, from seeing Arafat's true state".

© AFP (combined reports)

Subject: French News

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