Leader's wife hit by PLO slur campaign

Suha Arafat is resisting pressure to switch off the machines keeping the Palestinian leader alive until she obtains guarantees of a share in her husband's considerable wealth, according to
Libération.

Suha Arafat is resisting pressure to switch off the machines keeping the Palestinian leader alive until she obtains guarantees of a share in her husband's considerable wealth, according to Libération.

In a story printed this morning, the French newspaper claims that Mrs Arafat's relationship with the Palestine Liberation Organisation leadership - who visited Yasser Arafat yesterday - is so poor that she fears she and her daughter, Zahwa, 9, will be left penniless. The claim is difficult to verify as it comes amid a media smear campaign against Mrs Arafat, 41, who married the PLO leader in 1990.

In the past few days, Mrs Arafat, 41, a banker's daughter who lives in Paris and is considered a bourgeois outsider by her husband's brothers-in-arms, has taken centre stage. On al-Jazeera television she accused the leadership of "burying" her husband alive. Yesterday morning, as a delegation including the Prime Minister, Ahmed Qureia, and the PLO secretary general, Mahmood Abbas, was preparing to visit Mr Arafat, she convinced French doctors to announce that her husband was too ill to see visitors. Only after President Jacques Chirac intervened, it is believed, was the four-strong delegation able to see the Mr Arafat for two hours.

The gulf between the PLO and Mrs Arafat, who was presented by the media yesterday as a blonde Sorbonne graduate with expensive tastes, has been widening for years. As "Soussou" told a French interviewer five years ago, Mr Arafat's comrades believe he should be married to the Palestinian cause, not to a woman.

Yesterday Le Figaro led on a story about a French money-laundering investigation into the source and destination of an alleged €11.5m (£8m) that is said to have passed through Mrs Arafat's French bank accounts. It noted that Forbes magazine listed Mr Arafat last year as the world's sixth wealthiest leader, with a fortune of €390m.

Since the start of the second intifada, wrote Metro, the Christian-born Mrs Arafat has enjoyed all the elegance of Parisian living while Mr Arafat has been holed up in Ramallah with a pistol under his pillow. "She only went to see him once, and by that time he was really ill," added the freesheet.

This morning's report in Libération asserts that Mrs Arafat's position has been complicated because her husband, who lived frugally, never separated PLO finances from his own. He bought favours with money from bank accounts whose numbers were listed in a notebook in his pocket.

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