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S P E C I A L Struggle for Peace

Palestinians deny Arafat is ailing

Arab League 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 the weekend.

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.

vxtreme CNN's Walter Rodgers reports

"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 as 40."

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 Rdainah.

"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 at the beach

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 settlers.

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 successor.

"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 tremor.

"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 Palestinian analyst.

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.

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