Palestinians deny Arafat is ailing
September 22, 1997
Web posted at: 6:26 p.m. EDT (1826 GMT)
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Palestinian authorities denied reports
Monday that Yasser Arafat blacked out after a heated argument
at a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo during
Egyptian and other sources say Arafat got upset during an
argument over a controversial economic conference regarding
Israel, fainted and had to be resuscitated by a doctor.
If Arafat has serious health problems it could further
destabilize the Middle East, but a close adviser to Arafat
who is also a medical doctor denied the report.
"I know Yasser Arafat day by day, hour by hour," said Dr.
Ahmed Tibi. "This man is 68 years old, but he is as healthy
Israel's Channel 2 television reported Friday that Western
intelligence sources said Arafat was suffering from a severe
illness that caused his face and hand to twitch, and that
Palestinian leaders were looking for his successor.
An Egyptian Foreign Ministry official who declined to be
named confirmed the report to Reuters, saying that Arafat
"was arguing with the Qatari foreign minister on Friday about
the (economic) conference and got upset and just blacked out.
"We got a doctor who revived him. He had to be led out of the
ministry at the end of the meeting."
American source calls report 'rubbish'
But a well-placed American source called the report "rubbish"
and an Associated Press reporter saw Arafat twice that day
and said he appeared normal.
Tibi called the report part of an Israeli misinformation
campaign aimed at weakening Arafat politically.
"During the last two months, there is a personal campaign
against President Yasser Arafat, a political personal
campaign led by ... (Israeli Prime Minister) Benjamin
Netanyahu," Tibi said.
The rumor was also denied by Arafat adviser Nabil Abu
"All reports concerning Arafat's illness and that he fainted
in Cairo are false," he said. "He is in good health. He had
not been suffering from any illnesses. The reports are aimed
at weakening Arafat and the Palestinian Authority."
Arafat has been under great stress in recent months. He was
lectured by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright about
terrorism and he feels she did little to help him advance the
Palestinian cause with Israel. Sources say Arafat is
exhausted and very discouraged.
Palestinian-Israeli peace talks have been stalled since March
over an Israeli decision to build a Jewish housing project on
disputed land in Jerusalem.
Tremor the result of plane crash
Arafat, who left Cairo on Sunday after a two-day visit,
also complained to the Arab ministers about a situation in
which Israeli students are being allowed to live in an Arab
neighborhood in east Jerusalem as proxies for Jewish
Arafat tried to counter the rumors of ill health by inviting
cameras to an outing at a Gaza beach over the weekend, and
Palestinian officials denied they were searching for Arafat's
"When he is tired and nervous, he is shaking," says Ghassan
Khatib, a Palestinian analyst, "but this does not reflect
any new health development."
Recent videos have shown Arafat's lower lip quavering, but
Palestinian doctors say this is an idiopathic tremor and the
lingering consequence of a 1992 airplane crash that nearly
cost Arafat his life.
CNN asked Dr. Zohar Argov, an Israeli neurologist from
Hadassah Hospital, for an independent diagnosis of the
"This little shaking or tremor of the lower lip of Mr. Arafat
is not a new thing," he said after screening video of Arafat.
"I have noticed it for quite some time."
Even those who believe Arafat is in good health now still
worry about what will happen when he is not.
When Arafat sneezes....
"We are still living in a situation where most of our land is
occupied and most of our people are under occupation and we
did not achieve independence yet," says Khatib, the
Western intelligence sources say that whenever Yasser Arafat
is exhausted he tends to become very susceptible to colds and
flu. And at 68, with no obvious successor, every Arafat
sneeze has serious implications for the Palestinians, Israel
and the entire region.
Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers and Reuters contributed to this report.