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Doctor: Arafat has blood platelet deficiency

Palestinian leader headed for a Paris hospital, aide says
Arafat smiles with his doctors and bodyguards in a photo released by the Palestinian Authority Thursday.
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CNN's John Vause on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's health.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat talks about Arafat's health.
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Yasser Arafat

RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is suffering from a blood platelet deficiency and is being moved to Paris for additional tests to determine its cause, one of his doctors said Thursday.

"There are certain investigations for this disease, which is not possible to do them here," said his physician, Ashraf al-Kurdi.

"This is why we advised him to go abroad for further investigations, because if we know exactly what is the cause of the platelet deficiency, then the treatment can be very easy."

A senior Palestinian official said the tests would determine whether Arafat, 75, was suffering from leukemia, as some reports have suggested.

"He is very sick, and he understands he needs to go to Paris," the official said.

But Al-Kurdi said in an evening news conference that Arafat has shown "no evidence whatsoever so far of any leukemic process."

Leukemia is a blood-related cancer that can be fatal, depending on what stage the disease is in when it is detected.

Arafat is scheduled to leave for Paris via Jordan early Friday -- his first trip outside his Ramallah headquarters compound in more than two and a half years.

In his absence, Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei and his Cabinet will be in charge of the Palestinian Authority, officials said.

Senior Arafat aide Nabil Abu Rudeineh said Arafat is exhausted and weak, and has been unable to keep down any food for the past 15 days.

Palestinian Authority officials have said at different times that Arafat was suffering from a bad stomach flu, a virus and gallstones.

Doctors have run a battery of tests but have been unable to determine exactly what is wrong with him, Rudeineh said.

The Palestinian Authority released video it said was shot Thursday morning showing a smiling Arafat holding the hands of his aides.

The Palestinian leader wore a knit cap and pajamas, rather than his trademark military fatigues and checkered kaffiyeh, and his face appeared thin and flushed.

Israel has confined Arafat to his compound in Ramallah since December 2001, accusing him of provoking suicide bombings and other violent acts in the Palestinian uprising that began in September 2000, charges he denies.

In a major concession, the Israeli government said it would allow Arafat to go anywhere his doctors feel is necessary and would allow him to return to his compound.

"If ... the doctors say that he needs to be transferred to a certain hospital and then be returned back, Israel will not impose any conditions, Israel will not impose any restrictions," said Raanan Gissin, a senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"As with regards to the future ... that's a separate issue," Gissin said. In the past, Israel has said it could not guarantee Arafat's safe return if he left his compound.

Abbas Zaki, a member of the central committee of Arafat's Fatah movement, said Arafat will be taken Friday to Jordan by helicopter, where he will be placed aboard a French aircraft for the flight to Paris.

In Paris, French government spokesman Jerome Bonnafont said which hospital Arafat will go to will depend on his condition and his illness. He said the French government welcomed the request for assistance.

Arafat's wife, Suha, who had been summoned from her home in Tunis, Tunisia, where she lives with their daughter, arrived at Arafat's compound Thursday evening.

"He's OK. He's better. He's recovering, I hope," she said.

But Arafat aides said the Palestinian leader, who spends much time dozing, often suffers memory loss and cannot recognize the people around him, even his bodyguards.

Earlier, Arafat expressed reluctance about leaving. His aides have said in the past that he feared the Israeli army would raid his headquarters in his absence.

The Israeli decision came after Qorei called Sharon Thursday morning, asking for and receiving approval for any medical assistance that might be needed.

Contingency plans

Arafat remains the symbol of Palestinian aspirations for an independent state. Who would take over for him if he is unable to govern and who would succeed him if he dies remained unclear.

According to the central committee of Arafat's Fatah movement, Arafat said Wednesday he wanted to name former Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas as his deputy.

There were also reports, which Rudeineh denied, that Arafat had created a special committee of three senior Palestinian officials to run Palestinian affairs until he recovers.

According to current Palestinian law, if Arafat dies, he would be succeeded by the speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Rouhi Fattouh, and elections would be held within 60 days.

In Jerusalem, Sharon held security consultations on the latest developments regarding Arafat's health and received "a comprehensive and exhaustive intelligence briefing," his office said.

Sharon instructed Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz to conduct a comprehensive security assessment of the situation immediately.

The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported the Israel Defense Forces Central Command was discussing a number of scenarios in the event Arafat dies.

According to the report, Israeli officials fear that the Palestinian territories will fall into chaos, that the Palestinians will blame Arafat's death on Israel, and that attacks on Israelis will increase.

Arafat visited Washington in August 2000 for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak hosted by President Clinton. The talks failed and the current Palestinian uprising began shortly thereafter.

President Bush took a new tack after taking office in 2001, refusing to meet with Arafat and insisting that reform and new leadership within the Palestinian Authority were necessary prerequisites for creation of an independent Palestinian state.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour contributed to this report.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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