Arafat 'stable' after doctors rule out two killer diseases

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The Independent Online

French doctors investigating Yasser Arafat's illness informed Palestinian leaders in Ramallah yesterday that they had ruled out leukaemia and lymphoma, two of the most common fatal blood diseases. They expected to establish a definitive diagnosis by Wednesday.

French doctors investigating Yasser Arafat's illness informed Palestinian leaders in Ramallah yesterday that they had ruled out leukaemia and lymphoma, two of the most common fatal blood diseases. They expected to establish a definitive diagnosis by Wednesday.

"Doctors are happy because his situation is quite stable," Leila Shahid, the Palestinian envoy to Paris, said.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian parliament, said they were looking into the possibility of "some kind of toxicity or very severe infection". But Saeb Erekat, one of the ailing President's most loyal lieutenants, cautioned against jumping to conclusions. "We are waiting to hear the French doctors' findings," he said.

Mr Arafat, who received a blood transfusion soon after a French military plane flew him to Paris on Friday, is reported to be regaining some strength. Mr Erekat said that Mr Arafat read from the Koran yesterday, as he normally does every day during Ramadan, for the first time in more than a week. His nine-year-old daughter, Zahwa, whom he had not seen for three years, also visited him. She lives in Paris with her mother, Suha.

Palestinian security men are questioning workers in the Muqata, Mr Arafat's besieged Ramallah headquarters, to see if an Israeli collaborator had administered a slow-acting poison in his food. A security source said: "This is a routine matter."

The message from Ramallah over the weekend was business as usual under a division of labour between Ahmad Qureia, the Prime Minister, and his predecessor, Mahmoud Abbas. They were avoiding any overt power struggle.

Mr Qureia, also known as Abu Ala, assumed responsibility for day-to-day administration and security in the Palestinian Authority. Mr Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, took over broader issues of war and peace as acting chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's executive committee, the movement's supreme political body.

The two interim leaders said they continued to consult with and receive instructions from Mr Arafat "in his capacity as the chairman of the PLO, the president of the Palestinian Authority and the historic leader of the Palestinian national movement".

The Palestinian street remained apprehensive. The official television channel cancelled all programmes, played patriotic songs and relayed footage of Mr Arafat meeting world leaders.

Husam Khader, a Palestinian MP, reading a letter from an Israeli prison to a solidarity rally in Nablus, said he feared for the future after 40 years of Mr Arafat's dominion.

Ariel Sharon, Israel's Prime Minister, was cautious. "Israel has made a commitment to allow Arafat to return to the territories," he said yesterday. He added, however, that he would never let Mr Arafat be buried in Jerusalem.

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