Arafat 'Very Much Alive' But Officials Are Very Worried, PA Official Says

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat is still "very much alive" but in a deep coma, and officials are very worried about his condition, PA Foreign Minister Nabil Sha'ath told reporters in France on Tuesday evening.

After days of speculation about the state of the Palestinian leader, Sha'ath put a number of rumors to rest: Arafat is alive, not connected to life support or brain dead but is fighting for his life.

Arafat was airlifted to the Percy Military hospital in Paris almost two weeks ago and slipped into a coma last Wednesday. Since then, there was very little information coming out of the hospital about his condition, because the information was controlled by his wife Suha.

Sha'ath along with PA Prime Minister Abu Ala, Arafat's PLO deputy Abu Mazen and the PA parliament speaker met with medical officials and French President Jacques Chirac on Tuesday.

"With really a very heavy heart we came to Paris to see our president who has been very sick," Sha'ath said in a televised news conference from Paris. "The president is very ill."

After days of being kept at bay by Arafat's wife Suha, who had the legal right to determine who would visit the Palestinian leader and what information would be dispersed about his condition, Abu Ala was designated to see the president in the intensive care unit, Sha'ath said.

"We were really allowed to see him and we could only delegate one of us to see him in the intensive care unit because of his very difficult situation. Mr. Abu Ala was the person chosen to see him, and he did," Sha'ath said.

Sha'ath expressed his gratitude to Percy hospital and the French medical staff for all of its care. "We are satisfied that everything possible was done to really put him back on the road to recovery," he said.

"Unfortunately that task has proven very difficult, and his situation deteriorated, especially last night. But since last Wednesday he has been in a coma, and that coma [deepened] last night," Sha'ath said.

"Having said that and having recognized the critical situation in which President Arafat is in today, his brain, his heart and his lungs still function, and he is alive," Sha'ath said.

"I don't see really any reason to either make rumors, precipitating his death or hoping for a quick recovery, because this is all the hand of God primarily," he added.

Although, Sha'ath said there is not a "full understanding" why Arafat's situation deteriorated, he said doctors had ruled out cancer or poisoning as possible causes but said that his condition appears to be the result of a number of chain reactions.

"The doctors by and large favor the explanation, that his age - 75 years old - a difficult life, the last three and a half years incarcerated in a very small office and which had very little oxygen...besieged by the Israeli army have contributed to a varieties digestive tract ailments," Sha'ath said, laying the blame for Arafat's demise at least partially at the feet of Israel.

Arafat has been under virtual house arrest in his Ramallah office compound for more than two years. Initially a spacious compound, Israel reduced the size of it in various actions against the PA leader.

"So he had serious inflammations of the stomach and the intestines and these have led to a long period without nutrition," Sha'ath said.

"This led to deterioration on the blood chemistry and the blood composition and the platelets, and this led obviously to a chain reaction back into...not being able to feed him intravenously because of the lack of platelets and the fear of hemorrhage. And therefore, you really had a chain reaction that built over time that led to the coma and to a deeper coma," he added.

Sha'ath also ruled out questions of what he called "euthanasia." For days, the lack of credible information had led to speculations that Arafat was already clinically dead and only sustained by life support systems. But Sha'ath said that Arafat had undergone a number of biopsies and endoscopies, which required his being sedated.

"No such measure [euthanasia] has ever been considered by his doctors nor by his family," Sha'ath said. "So he will live or die depending on his body's ability to resist and on the will of God, because every medical support is given to him."

Sha'ath said it was "indecent" to explore any questions about Arafat's burial at this time when they were still praying for his recovery.

The Palestinian government was functioning as it should, Sha'ath said, and if Arafat should die, the speaker of the house would become the interim president for no more than 60 days and arrange for elections.

Finally, Sha'ath dismissed Suha's Monday rage in which she accused the current Palestinian of trying to claim an inheritance by burying her husband alive. Her harsh accusations infuriated Palestinians and were widely seen as an attempt to gain power and money in the waning hours of Arafat's life.

"Mrs. Suha Arafat, the wife of the president has really had difficult times in the last few days with the danger in which her husband is in," said Sha'ath. "But today she received us in the hospital, embraced all of us and allowed us to visit the president and talk to all his doctors."

Arafat's body "is resisting," Sha'ath said. "We are worried very much about his condition today...We still all pray very much for his health."

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