Fears grow for Arafat as health deteriorates


An ambulance pulled up outside the headquarters of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat tonight and three medics went inside, according to witnesses.  

Israeli radio claimed Mr Arafat lost consciousness, forcing aides to call the ambulance. A Palestine Liberation Organisation official denied the report.

Both the Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie and his predecessor, Mr Mahmud Abbas, were meeting with the 75-year-old Palestinian leader, witnesses said.

Palestinian cabinet minister Mr Saeb Erekat said he had seen Mr Arafat earlier today and that he "was still recovering from stomach flu," but he knew of no further developments.

Mr Arafat's foreign minister, Mr Nabil Shaath, said last night that the leader was in pain because of serious "intestinal flu" but doctors flown in earlier this week from Egypt and Tunisia expected him to be feeling much better in a few days.

Confined to his headquarters for the past two years by Israeli forces, Mr Arafat underwent a minor diagnostic procedure on Monday after complaining of stomach pains. Palestinian officials said then that an endoscopy found no serious ailment but the president remained weak.

A hospital official said yesterday that the ailing leader was suffering from a large gallstone. The gallstone, while extremely painful, is not life-threatening and can be easily treated.

Questions about Mr Arafat's health have raised Palestinian fears of a bloody succession struggle after his death. He has never picked a successor for fear of nurturing a rival who could threaten his rule, and no clear challenger has emerged.