Arafat’s condition improving, say officials

An ailing Yasser Arafat entered a fourth day of emergency treatment on Monday at a French military hospital specialising in blood disorders, but the cause of his precipitous decline in health remained unexplained.

Palestinian officials say their leader’s condition has improved markedly since he was rushed from his battered Ramallah headquarters in the West Bank to Paris on Friday — and that he does not suffer from leukaemia or cancer. But that has not been publicly confirmed by French physicians involved in his treatment.

On Sunday, Palestinians said, Arafat was healthy enough to telephone colleagues, read telegrams from world leaders and eat a normal breakfast. Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said all types of cancer had been ruled out.

However, Israel Army Radio on Monday quoted a senior military intelligence official as saying Israel assumes Arafat suffers from either a severe viral infection or cancer.

The official, who was not identified further, appeared before the Israeli Parliament’s defence and foreign affairs committee, which was discussing Arafat’s condition in a close-door meeting.

Palestinian officials gave conflicting reports on when results from further tests were expected. Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said Arafat’s doctors will issue a medical report by early Tuesday. Mohammed Rashid, a close Arafat aide, said results are due on Wednesday.

“Arafat does not have leukaemia,” said Rashid. “It’s been ruled out. Rule it out.”

Arafat has been ill for two weeks and took a turn for the worse on Wednesday, collapsing and briefly losing consciousness. Initial blood tests performed in the West Bank revealed a low blood-platelet count. French physicians at the Hopital d’Instruction des Armees de Percy, south-west of Paris, gave Arafat a platelet transfusion shortly after his arrival.

Platelets are blood components that aid clotting. A low count indicates a possible problem with the bone marrow, where blood cells are made. There are many causes of platelet decline, ranging in severity from minor to life-threatening.

With leukaemia seemingly excluded as a diagnosis, doctors were trying to determine whether Arafat was suffering from poisoning, a viral infection or some other disease, Palestinian aides said on condition of anonymity on Sunday.

Asked whether doctors suspect viral infections or poisoning, Arafat spokesperson Nabil Abu Rdeneh said, “We don’t eliminate any factor; we don’t exclude any alternative.”

He said Arafat is expected to recover and spent part of Sunday catching up on international and Arab events and reading summaries of telegrams from world leaders who wished him well.

French President Jacques Chirac called Arafat to ask about his health, Abu Rdeneh said. He said Arafat thanked Chirac for the French care.

Chirac spokesperson Jerome Bonnafont couldn’t confirm the call but did say the French leader’s office was in contact with Arafat’s doctors and entourage throughout the weekend.

In a sign of Palestinians from all factions expressing their solidarity with Arafat, despite bitter rivalries, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal also called on Sunday to wish Arafat well but did not speak to him directly, aides to Arafat said.

In the West Bank, Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad said that Arafat sounded coherent and alert during a five-minute telephone conversation on Sunday.

“This phone call is clear proof that President Arafat is fully aware of what is going on around him,” Fayyad said.

Leila Shahid, the Palestinian envoy to France, said Arafat received messages from world leaders including Chirac, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

In Israel, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on Sunday that Arafat will not be permitted to be buried in Jerusalem if he dies, as the Palestinian leader has requested. But Sharon said he will stick by a commitment to allow Arafat to return home from France after his treatment. — Sapa-AP

Associated Press writer Scheherezade Faramarzi contributed to this report

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