Infection raises fears about Arafat's health

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The Independent Online

Five Tunisian doctors examined Yasser Arafat on Saturday after the Palestinian leader complained of a stomach disorder and high temperature.

Five Tunisian doctors examined Yasser Arafat on Saturday after the Palestinian leader complained of a stomach disorder and high temperature.

The move follows a visit by three Egyptian specialists a week ago. A Palestinian minister told The Independent yesterday that Mr Arafat had a viral infection in his gastric system.

Mr Arafat, 75, who used to work an 18-hour day, has cut back on meetings but is still fasting for Ramadan. His lips often tremble, which is believed to be a legacy of a plane crash from which he escaped in 1992. The Tunisian team, including blood, heart, brain and intestinal experts, have said that his state of health is not life threatening.

Spokesmen had claimed Mr Arafat had a bad bout of influenza, but sceptics said that would hardly merit bringing in senior doctors from abroad.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government is expected to vote today on Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan for the evacuation of 21 Gaza settlements. The Cabinet approved a draft compensation bill yesterday for the 8,000 settlers. Government sources predict a convincing majority of at least 67 of the 120-member parliament will vote for the disengagement plan.

But Mr Sharon suffered a blow on Saturday when Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual guide of the Sephardi Shas party, ordered his 11 MPs to vote against the pullout. With 17 of the 40 from Mr Sharon's own Likud threatening to rebel, he will depend on the opposition to see him home.

*An Israeli helicopter strike killed two Islamic Jihad gunmen outside a Khan Yunis mosque in the Gaza Strip yesterday. Palestinian sources said that five other people, four of them civilians, were wounded.

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