"Very complex" situation

Palestinian leaders visit Paris amid confusion over Arafat's condition and talk about the renewal of Mideast peace negotiations.


Nicholas WattChris McGreal
November 8, 2004 8:25PM (UTC)

The Palestinian leadership is to travel to Paris Monday to visit Yasser Arafat, who is gravely ill and possibly on life support, in a French military hospital. Officials said the Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qureia; the acting head of the main Palestinian political organizations, Mahmoud Abbas; and the foreign minister, Nabil Shaath, were to consult with doctors at Percy military hospital, where Arafat remains in intensive care amid conflicting reports about his health.

There was speculation in Palestinian political circles that the Palestinian leaders might be traveling to Paris to accompany Arafat back to the occupied territories, either after his death or to die on the ground he fought over for decades. News of the visit came as expectations mounted that President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair would announce a major initiative to revive the Middle East peace process when they meet in Washington this week.

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British government sources dismissed talk of a "Madrid-style" conference in London in January, along the lines of the conference that kickstarted the Oslo process after the 1991 Gulf War. But it is understood that the prime minister has secured Bush's agreement to try to revive the Middle East road map.

Blair is determined to achieve progress on the Middle East for two reasons: to prove to the "Arab street" that Britain and the U.S. are dealing with its greatest grievance, and to prove to the Labor Party that it is worth sticking close to Bush. Critics say, however, that the U.S. president has offered warm words before that have proved to be meaningless when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was effectively given a free rein by the White House.

Shaath Sunday denied a report that the Palestinian leader had suffered liver failure. Doctors in Paris have been unable to identify what is ailing Arafat, but have ruled out leukemia. Palestinian officials have in recent days said that Arafat was in a coma, and that he was not; that he was on life support, and that he was not; that he held telephone conversations over the weekend, and that he remained unconscious. Throughout the weekend, the hospital said there had been no change in his condition.

The French newspaper Libération reported that doctors have concluded that Arafat is brain-dead after an EEG scan on Nov. 4. The hospital has not carried out a second scan, legally required to confirm a patient is brain-dead, because the Palestinian delegation has refused to allow it while political and funeral preparations are made.

The hospital's spokesman, Christian Estripeau, qualified all his public statements last week by saying they were being made in accordance with the wishes of Arafat's wife, Suha, widely seen as an indication that the doctors are not revealing the whole story.

The French foreign minister, Michel Barnier, described Arafat's condition as "very complex, very serious and stable." Asked about reports that Arafat is brain-dead, Barnier replied: "I wouldn't say that."

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Qureia, Abbas and other members of the Palestinian leadership Sunday agreed to a plan to "restore law and order" in the occupied territories. Israel welcomed the initiative as evidence that the emerging Palestinian leadership is prepared to combat "terror," a precondition by Sharon's government for negotiations.


Nicholas Watt

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Chris McGreal

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