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Palestinians plan for eventual Arafat funeral

Services expected be held in Cairo and Ramallah

Cleric Taissir Tamimi's presence at the hospital fueled speculation Arafat's life was nearly over.
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PARIS, France (CNN) -- Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat still was clinging to life late Wednesday, a Muslim cleric said, as Palestinian leaders made burial plans.

Palestinian cleric Taissir Day Tamimi, who arrived at the French military hospital Wednesday, said the 75-year-old Palestinian leader showed signs of life.

Arafat has been on a respirator since slipping into a coma November 3. A Percy Military Hospital spokesman said Arafat went into a deeper coma early Tuesday.

"There is still life in his body. There is movement. There is temperature," Tamimi told reporters at the hospital.

Tamimi serves as the Palestinian chief of judges and is the chairman of the Islamic law high council in the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian sources in Ramallah, West Bank, have said Tamimi's presence is required for an Islamic declaration of death -- one that would be issued out of respect for Arafat's religion, but also to prevent any questions about the circumstances of the Palestinian leader's passing.

"I will be praying for brother Arafat, for God to ease his pain," he said.

Palestinian officials said Arafat's death could come in a matter of hours or days and Foreign Minister Nabil Sha'ath said a state funeral will be held in the Egyptian capital Cairo when the time comes. But both he and Tamimi said Arafat would not be removed from a respirator while any sign of life remained.

Egypt offered to host a state funeral, and Sha'ath said the executive committee of the Palestinian Authority decided to accept the offer during a meeting in Ramallah on Wednesday.

"We've accepted President [Hosni] Mubarak's invitation to have the funeral in Cairo, where he [Arafat] will be laid in state and where many world leaders will come and pay him respect," Sha'ath told CNN.

"Then he will be transported by an Egyptian helicopter directly from Cairo to Ramallah, where he will also have a public procession here and prayers. Then he will be buried in a tomb in Muqataa."

Arafat was born in Cairo in 1929. Muqataa is his compound in Ramallah and the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian sources said Sha'ath and Mahmoud Abbas, the acting head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, were en route to Cairo early Thursday to make final arrangements.

Suha Arafat, the Palestinian leader's wife, will accompany her husband's body to Cairo when the time comes and will attend services in Ramallah, Sha'ath said.

Sha'ath said Arafat -- who has been in a Paris military hospital since October 29 -- is in a "very critical stage." His kidneys and liver have shut down but his heart and lungs are still functioning.

Transition government

Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei has been in charge of the Palestinian government. Under the Palestinian Authority's basic law, Palestinian parliament Speaker Rawhi Fattuh would replace Arafat on an interim basis if Arafat dies or is declared incapacitated, and elections would be held within 60 days.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said Palestinian leaders "will stick to our basic law," but called on the United States to help the Palestinians conduct elections under a 1996 agreement with Israel.

"The key here is to go ahead with the election within the 60-day time frame, because we're on the track of democracy, and that's what the Palestinian people deserve," he said. (Possible successors)

The Bush administration has refused to deal with Arafat, saying he has failed to crack down on Palestinian militant groups the United States considers terrorist organizations.

President Bush said Wednesday that his administration will "help build the institutions necessary for a free society" in a Palestinian state when a new leader emerges.

"There will be an opening for peace when leadership of the Palestinian people steps forward and says, 'Help us build a democratic and free society,'" Bush told reporters at the White House.

Meanwhile, bulldozers and trucks were busy around the Muqataa in Ramallah Wednesday afternoon, moving debris left from three years of the renewed intifada, including burned-out cars and the rubble of buildings, to prepare for the burial. (Arafat burial preparations under way)

Crews are also preparing to build a moveable monument in which to bury the Palestinian leader, one that could be transported to Jerusalem one day, Palestinian sources said. Jerusalem was Arafat's first choice for a resting place, but the Israeli government firmly rejected that wish.

CNN's Michael Holmes in Ramallah, Jim Bittermann in Paris and Ben Wedeman in Cairo contributed to this report.

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