Concern grows as Arafat's health worsens


MIDDLE EAST: Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's health worsened yesterday and a team of doctors went to his compound to examine him. He was later taken to hospital.

Mr Arafat had been ill over the past two weeks, suffering from what Palestinian officials said was a lengthy bout of the flu.

Israeli officials speculated he might have stomach cancer, but two of Mr Arafat's doctors said that a blood test, combined with a biopsy of tissue taken from his digestive tract, showed he does not.

But last night his condition deteriorated and doctors rushed to his room to examine him, an official at Mr Arafat's office said.

Soon after, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas were summoned to his compound, the official said.

The two entered Mr Arafat's room, but other Palestinian officials were kept out.

A hospital official said on Tuesday that Arafat was suffering from a large gallstone. The gallstone, while extremely painful, is not life-threatening and can be easily treated.

The 75-year-old has refused to groom a successor, for fear of nurturing a rival who could threaten his rule, and no clear challenger has emerged.

In the past two years, he has worn out Abbas and Qureia with political manoeuvres and has blocked their attempt to limit his powers. Mr Arafat continued to rest yesterday and broke his Ramadan fast for a second straight day, aides said.

The Palestinian leader has not left his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah since 2002 because of Israeli threats he would not be allowed to return. - (AP)