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Questions swirl around Arafat's health

PLO rep says tests exclude leukemia 'for the time being'

Yasser Arafat is seen Friday en route to France in this photo released by the Palestinian Authority.
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A spokeswoman says doctors have ruled out leukemia.

Thousands march for Yasser Arafat in Gaza and the West Bank.

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Yasser Arafat

PARIS, France (CNN) -- The Palestine Liberation Organization said Yasser Arafat was getting better Saturday as the ailing Palestinian leader underwent medical examination at a Paris hospital, but sources close to the Palestinian leadership raised the possibility that his era as a leader may be coming to an end.

"He woke up in a good mood, in good shape after a real rest," said PLO representative Leila Shahid in Paris. "He feels generally better; his general condition is better."

It remains unclear what his ailment is, and tests are under way.

Shahid said tests so far exclude leukemia "for the time being."

Sources close to the Palestinian leadership had said that Arafat's team of doctors thought he most likely had leukemia before he left his West Bank compound in Ramallah for France but had wanted to leave it to French physicians to reach a conclusion.

The sources also said Arafat, 75, is not in complete control of his mental faculties and cannot make important decisions or communicate coherently.

His wife, Suha, and a Palestinian official are visiting Arafat while he's in the hospital.

Sources close to the Palestinian leadership said they had knowledge of his condition. But Nasser al-Kidwa, Palestinian representative to the United Nations, and Arafat adviser Mohamed Rashid rejected the sources' descriptions of his health.

Members of Arafat's family also said he remains sharp and is able to make decisions.

In Ramallah, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei and former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas have assumed additional responsibilities during Arafat's absence, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said.

Abbas, secretary-general of the executive committee of the PLO, is acting chairman of the PLO, and Qorei, deputy head of the national security council, is acting head of the security committee, Erakat said.

Erakat said Arafat approved the changes before leaving for France.

"Things will function ... in accordance with the basic law and the internal law of each of these institutions, and hoping that Arafat will recover and resume his duties," Erakat said. "Meanwhile, things will function for the benefit and interests of the Palestinian people."

But sources close to the Palestinian leadership said Qorei and Abbas have come to an agreement for Abbas to become leader in the event that Arafat dies or is incapacitated.

Abbas would be chairman of the PLO and the Fatah organization, and Qorei would be in charge of the Palestinian Authority and security services, the sources said.

Erakat said only that the temporary changes were made during Arafat's absence and that Palestinian institutions were working to see that Palestinians' needs are met.

The PLO executive committee met Saturday, leaving Arafat's seat empty.

The sources close to the Palestinian leadership said some Palestinians oppose making any formal plan while Arafat is alive and would rather have communiques issued in his name. There is no agreement, and there is still something of a power struggle under way, the sources said.

Both Abbas and Qorei have publicly been at odds with Arafat, even as they have stated allegiance to him.

Each complained he was not allowed enough power over security forces or finances to allow important steps in improving Palestinian life and reducing terrorist attacks by Palestinian militant groups.

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