Israel Preparing for Death of Arafat

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

Jerusalem ( - The health of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat was said to be deteriorating on Thursday, with various reports describing him as comatose and on life support. Israel said there is no doubt that when he dies, he will not be buried in Jerusalem.

Arafat, who was taken from his Ramallah office compound to a French hospital last week, was placed in intensive care overnight.

According to Israeli media reports, Arafat suffered organ failure and lost consciousness several times. On Thursday, Israeli officials described his condition as critical.

But former Palestinian Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan, who is in Paris, accused Israeli officials of spreading rumors about Arafat's condition and making the situation more complicated.

PA Minister Saeb Erekat also said he had spoken with Arafat's wife Suha and she had told him Arafat's condition was "stable and difficult."

Medical officials at the hospital were expected to give an update on Arafat's condition some time on Thursday.

Former PA Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat's deputy in the Fatah organization, cancelled plans to fly to Paris on Thursday, apparently after being told that Arafat could not receive visitors.

Palestinian Fatah officials were meeting in Ramallah to discuss the situation on Thursday.

Israeli security officials, including the army chief of staff and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, were meeting to discuss Arafat's deteriorating condition on Thursday, Israel radio reported.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Israel was paying "the utmost attention" to Arafat's situation.

"Our aim is to be ready for the day after Arafat, but this is not something we can fix in advance, it is still too early to bury him," Shalom said in a radio interview.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's spokesman Dr. Ra'anan Gissin said it was still too early to consider whether Israel would allow Arafat's body to be returned to the area, but it was clear he would not be buried in Jerusalem.

"When a request is made it will be considered on its merits," Gissin said.

Last week, Israel agreed to a request that Arafat be allowed to travel to Paris for treatment. Israel agreed as a humanitarian gesture to PA Prime Minister Abu Ala, Gissin said. Any other request is not relevant right now, he added.

For years Arafat expressed his desire to pray at the Al-Aksa mosque on the Temple Mount. He also rallied masses of Palestinians with the war cry of a million martyrs marching to lay hold on Jerusalem -- where one day, he said, Palestinian flags would fly over the churches and mosques of the city.

The closest he got was several years ago, when Israel allowed Arafat to drive past Jerusalem's Old City following a Christmas Eve service in Bethlehem on his way to Jordan. That was only because it was too windy for his helicopter to fly.

Arafat also has expressed his desire to be buried in the Muslim cemetery on Jerusalem's Temple Mount.

Last year, Israeli parliamentarian Arieh Eldad proposed a law that would prevent any burials in the Old City of Jerusalem, without the express approval of the prime minister.

But Gissin said there is no necessity for any law in this regard.

"The Prime Minister [Ariel Sharon] stated very clearly [that Arafat] would not be buried in Jerusalem, period," Gissin said. "Israel is a sovereign state...He will not be buried in Jerusalem."

Jerusalem is one of the most volatile issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinians want to see the city divided and the eastern section, including the Old City come under their authority as the capital of a future state.

But Israel insists that the city will be its undivided capital forever.

When asked about the possibility of Arafat being buried in Jerusalem, Shalom said that Arafat's family was originally from the Gaza Strip, "where his father, sister and one of his brothers are buried."

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.