Arafat reported seriously ill
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat talks to reporters at his headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah October 5, 2003. Photo by Ammar Awad/Reuters
Four ambulances that were seen entering Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah on Monday afternoon triggered off rumors that he was seriously ill.I read somewhere that DEBKA-Net-Weekly published a piece about Arafat having three heart attacks lately, that reports of his "flu" were a cover-up - but now I can't find the reference. If anyone has access to that story, please email me.
Within minutes, senior officials in the compound were bombarded with phone calls from curious journalists. Arafat's spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, dismissed reports that Arafat had been taken to a local hospital. He said Arafat suffered from exhaustion and was recovering.
But another senior official said Arafat's health has rapidly deteriorated over the past two weeks. "I don't think it's the flu as some people say," he said. "The president hasn't been feeling well for some time and his health seems to be worsening."
He said it was possible that Arafat, 74, has caught a number of viruses as a result of shaking hands and exchanging kisses on the cheek with thousands of people who came to see him over the past few weeks following Israel's decision to "remove" him.
On Sunday, a pale and fragile-looking Arafat met in his office with the new PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei. Palestinians said they have never before seen Arafat in such a condition.
"You can see that he's very ill," said someone who attended the meeting. "He can hardly speak. Something bad is happening to him."
Some PA officials said Arafat's decision to declare a state of emergency in the West Bank and Gaza Strip could be linked to his illness. "It's possible that he doesn't want to leave a vacuum behind," said one PA official. "He must have discussed the issue with Abu Ala [Qurei]."
Last week, the PA summoned a team of doctors from Jordan to examine Arafat after he complained of severe abdominal pain. They concluded that he had recovered from a mild illness and only needed some rest.
At first, his aides suspected that he had been poisoned. Arafat had been vomiting for several days. Shortly after the Jordanian team returned home, a journalist in Ramallah quoted a senior PA official as saying that "Arafat's days are numbered."
On Monday evening, journalists and visitors were barred from entering Arafat's compound. The decision only added to the growing speculation about Arafat's health.