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Palestinian leaders in Paris to visit Arafat

They had delayed trip after Arafat's wife made emotional plea

A motorcade transports senior Palestinians to their hotel after arriving in Paris, Monday.
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Yasser Arafat

PARIS, France (CNN) -- Senior Palestinians who have been running the government in Yasser Arafat's absence landed in Paris Monday to visit the ailing leader, despite an emotional warning from his wife.

In a statement delivered by telephone to the Arabic-language TV network Al-Jazeera, Suha Arafat told Palestinians that her husband's would-be "inheritors" were coming.

"I want the Palestinian people to be aware of the scope of this conspiracy. They want to bury him alive," she said.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei and former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas had been scheduled to leave Sunday evening but delayed their trip after Mrs. Arafat's statement.

After a meeting in Ramallah, the Palestinian leaders decided it was imperative for them to go to Paris.

But under French law, Mrs. Arafat controls her husband's treatment and access to him. It was not clear whether she would allow the delegation to visit Arafat or speak directly with his doctors.

A hospital spokesman, in a statement approved by Suha Arafat, said Arafat remains in intensive care and that his condition "compels us to restrict visits."

Qorei and Abbas -- who is now the acting head of the Palestine Liberation Organization -- are being joined by Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath and Speaker of the Parliament Rawhi Fattuh, who would replace Arafat on an interim basis for 60 days if he dies or becomes incapacitated.

The delegates have meetings scheduled with top French officials, including President Jacques Chirac, whose office said he will meet them at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday (10:30 a.m. ET).

Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi told CNN that Mrs. Arafat's remarks were "very, very unfortunate" and "very provocative, almost slanderous."

"[Yasser Arafat] is not just a husband or a father," Ashrawi said. "He is father of a nation. ... He is not just Suha's husband, and he should not be reduced to just Suha's husband.

"It's very important that they do go because we do have institutions, we do have a political hierarchy, and they have to see him," Ashrawi told CNN. "The public has a right to know.

"With them going there, they have to come back and say: 'We saw him, and this is how he was, and this is what the doctors told us,'" she said.

"I think they will be able to see him because he is head of state," Ashrawi said.

Christian Estripeau, spokesman for the Percy Military Training Hospital in Paris, said Arafat's condition improved for the first five days since his admission October 29, but then "has become worrisome and necessitated his transfer to the intensive care unit. He remains there and his condition is unchanged."

Source: Daily transfusions

Arafat, 75, has been in a coma since Friday, Palestinian officials said.

A source close to the Palestinian leadership told CNN on Monday that Arafat's blood platelet count was dropping and that he was getting daily transfusions.

On Sunday, Shaath told CNN that Arafat was in a "reversible" coma. "We do not know what is the reason for this coma and when will he come out of it," Shaath said.

He said Arafat's vital organs are "fine" and that he has no damage to his brain, liver or other organ.

"There is no regression, there is no deterioration in any of his vital organs, but he remains in a coma."

Shaath said he did not speak directly to the doctors but with Palestinian officials who did.

Access to Arafat is limited, and other Palestinian advisers have given contradictory statements since last week.

Officials fear widespread violence if Arafat dies. Palestinian security chiefs have agreed to plans to increase patrols in the West Bank and Gaza and provide more security for Palestinian institutions and officials while Arafat is hospitalized.

Arafat's family

Many Palestinians in the West Bank complained that Suha Arafat had not been in the region for a few years but was suddenly exerting influence now that her husband may be on his deathbed.

Suha Arafat, 34 years younger than her husband, was once his secretary and married him in 1990. She was raised Christian and converted to Islam before marrying him.

She and her husband have a 9-year-old daughter, Zahwa. Suha Arafat and Zahwa left Ramallah in early 2001, a few months after the outbreak of the current Palestinian intifada.

They lived in Paris for several years and recently moved to Tunis, Tunisia.

CNN's Michael Holmes, Waffa Munayyer and Ninette Sosa contributed to this report.

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