Reports Clash But Show Arafat’s Health Declining, Possibly CriticalBy Elaine Sciolino
The New York Times -- PARIS
Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, was in serious condition on Thursday in the intensive care unit of a French military hospital after a drastic deterioration in his health. There were conflicting reports that he was fighting for his life.
It was a day of fast-moving and occasionally bizarre rumors but little hard information about the health of Arafat, 75, who for 40 years has personified his people’s struggle for an independent state.
After both the Israeli media and the prime minister of Luxembourg declared that Arafat had died, the head of communications for French military health services felt compelled to issue a formal denial.
“The clinical situation since the days following his admission has become more complicated,” the French official, Gen. Christian Estripeau, said in a statement read to more than 100 reporters outside the Percy military hospital in the Paris suburb of Clamart. “The state of the patient’s health requires appropriate treatments that have required his transfer Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 3, to a service adapted to his ailment.”
“Mr. Arafat,” the general added, “is not dead.”
Estripeau, who is a doctor, said the communique had been framed “out of respect for the discretion requested by his spouse,” Suha, who has been at Arafat’s side since his emergency evacuation to France from his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah last Friday.
Arafat’s decline touched off a flurry of political activity in Jerusalem and Ramallah, where Arafat has been confined for the past two and a half years. The Israeli military drew up plans to deal with possible unrest in the aftermath of his death, while political officials began searching for ways to ensure that, in the event of his death, Arafat would not be buried in Jerusalem.
Palestinian officials focused on establishing lines of authority to keep up the day-to-day operations of the Palestinian Authority while Arafat is incapacitated, with Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei assuming some of Arafat’s financial powers.
Little is known about Arafat’s medical history. He was said to be extremely weak, suffering from nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. His blood tests showed abnormalities.
He is known to have suffered from gallstones last year, and doctors in the West Bank said last month that an ultrasound test had found a large gallstone. While gallstones can cause little trouble, they also can produce serious infections and lead to all of the symptoms that landed Arafat in the Percy military hospital.
Reports of Arafat’s transfer to intensive care first appeared in the Israeli media on Wednesday night, with one newspaper reporting that his condition was “very critical.” Transfer to intensive care is generally required only for life-threatening drops in blood pressure, heart or lung function.
But the absence of regular, authoritative medical reports about the precise nature and treatment of Arafat’s illness and the medical prognosis since his arrival in France has sparked a round of claims, rumors and denials about his condition.
In Israel, some media outlets reported Arafat had suffered organ failure and lost consciousness several times. Israel’s Channel Two television quoted unnamed sources in Paris as saying Arafat was brain dead. But in an interview with the Arabic television channel Al Arabiya, Arafat’s personal physician, Dr. Ashraf Kurdi, denied the claim, saying that Arafat had undergone a brain scan that showed “no type of brain death.”