Doctors say Arafat is not suffering from leukaemia

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The Independent Online

The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, yesterday urged the ailing Yasser Arafat to cede control of the Palestinian security services as a necessary first step to any future peace negotiations.

The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, yesterday urged the ailing Yasser Arafat to cede control of the Palestinian security services as a necessary first step to any future peace negotiations.

Mr Powell's call came as the 75-year-old Palestinian Authority President underwent a series of tests by specialists at a French military hospital to try and establish what he is suffering from.

Doctors have been baffled as to the exact cause of the illness that has laid Mr Arafat low for the last few weeks and prompted his flight from Ramallah to Paris on Friday, one Palestinian official said that it "looks like leukaemia" though that was being ruled out yesterday. "The doctors exclude for the time being any possibility of leukaemia. There are other possibilities," the Palestinian envoy to Paris, Leila Shahid, said. Mr Arafat is expected to remain in France for five to six weeks while tests continue.

In his interview with Egyptian television, Mr Powell refused to speculate on the state of Mr Arafat's health or whether he expected a power struggle if he did not recover thanks to his treatment in the Hôpital d'Instruction des Armées de Percy, to the southwest of the French capital.

Instead the Secretary of State used his interview to urge the Palestinian leader - still believed to be hanging on to the reins of power - to hand over control of the security services to "an empowered prime minister with political authority". This, he said would be the best way to exploit the "opportunity" he said had been afforded the Palestinians by the Israeli parliament's decision to approve Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw troops and settlers from Gaza.

Mr Arafat has consistently refused to hand over control of the nexus of sometimes competing security and intelligence services to either the present Prime Minister, Ahmed Qureia, or his predecessor, Abu Mazen, who yesterday chaired a meeting in Ramallah of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in Mr Arafat's absence and who has frequently been mentioned as a possible successor, along with the imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti.

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