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Ailing Arafat undergoing tests in Paris

Palestinian leader suffering from blood disorder


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Yasser Arafat
Ramallah

PARIS, France (CNN) -- An ailing Yasser Arafat has arrived at a Paris military hospital for treatment of a blood disorder after leaving his West Bank compound for the first time in nearly three years.

A helicopter carrying the 75-year-old Palestinian leader landed on the roof of the Hospital d'Instruction des Armees de Percy southwest of Paris on Friday. Arafat was taken by stretcher into the hospital.

Arafat is expected to undergo several days of tests before his diagnosis will be determined.

"He arrived in good shape, conscious, I talked to him, he expressed his appreciation and his thanks for French government that allowed him to be in a proper hospital," Leila Shahid, a Palestinian representative in France, told reporters in Paris.

Arafat's journey to Paris began Friday morning when he left his Ramallah compound, where Israel has confined him since December 2001.

A Jordanian military helicopter took Arafat from Ramallah to Amman, Jordan, where he boarded a French hospital plane for the flight to Paris. Another helicopter then ferried Arafat from an airfield near Paris to the hospital.

He was traveling with his wife, Suha, and numerous aides, according to Palestinian officials.

In Amman, Arafat was seen lying down inside the Jordanian helicopter before he was helped to his feet and across the tarmac to the waiting French plane.

He refused a wheelchair and walked with assistance amid a crowd of journalists and security officials. He smiled and blew kisses to the crowd before disappearing inside the aircraft.

In Ramallah, a massive crush of supporters and well-wishers crowded around a black limousine that carried Arafat from his compound to the helicopter nearby.

Arafat emerged from the crowd as he quickly boarded the helicopter, wearing a winter hat, instead of his usual checkered kaffiyeh, and a heavy military-style coat.

Arafat is suffering from a blood platelet deficiency and will undergo additional tests in the French capital to determine its cause, one of his doctors said.

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

"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 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 told reporters Thursday evening 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.

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

'He's recovering, I hope'

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

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.

In the video, the Palestinian leader wore a knit cap and pajamas, and his face appeared thin and flushed.

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

On Thursday, the Israeli government said it would allow Arafat to go anywhere his doctors felt was necessary and would allow him to return to his compound.

In the past, Israel has said it could not guarantee Arafat's safe return if he left his compound.

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

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.

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 was summoned from her home in Tunis, Tunisia, where she lives with their daughter, and arrived at Arafat's compound Thursday evening.

"He's OK. He's better. He's recovering, I hope," Suha Arafat 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.

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.

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

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 then-U.S. President Bill Clinton. The talks failed and the current Palestinian uprising began shortly thereafter.

U.S. President George W. 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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