Israeli officials said they would let Arafat seek treatment "wherever he wanted" at home or abroad, but the question of his return was "a separate issue after he recuperates". 

Aljazeera's correspondent in Cairo reported that the Egyptian government has also attempted to negotiate with high-ranking Israeli, US and European officials to guarantee Arafat's return in case he had to travel abroad for medical treatment.

 

An official close to Arafat said he will probably be taken to Paris for treatment, but another official said no decision had been made yet.

 

"It is most likely President Arafat will be transferred abroad for treatment. And it is very likely he will transferred to a hospital in Paris," said the first official.


Palestinian cabinet minister Saib Uraiqat said afterwards: "The decision will be announced later. It is not yet decided where Arafat will be transferred." 


Jordanian assistance

 

Doctors have been considering
admitting Arafat to hospital

Jordan had also announced its readiness to help evacuate Arafat to one of its hospitals if his return to the West Bank is guaranteed by Israel, government spokeswoman Asma Khudr said on Thursday.

 

"His majesty the king has ordered a team of doctors to go and follow up on Arafat's condition ... if they deem it necessary for him to be hospitalised we are ready to offer any help," she said.

 

"If he needs to be transferred to Jordan, we are ready. But the main problem is that it is feared if he [Arafat] leaves, he will not be allowed to go back."

Arafat is in serious condition but was able to take part in Muslim pre-dawn prayers on Thursday, officials said.

"He looked tired and weak, but he managed to pray," one official said of the 75-year-old leader, who for decades has symbolised the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation. 

Serious condition

 

Doctors also said that he is refusing to eat or drink anything, wanting to observe the fast during Ramadan even though certain circumstances such as illness, travel and old age absolve one from such a duty.


They added they were still deciding if Arafat needed to be hospitalised.

"The doctors will decide whether to transfer Arafat to Ram Allah hospital in the coming hours," Local Affairs Minister Jamal Shubaki told Aljazeera.

Aides urgently summoned doctors from Jordan on Wednesday and Arafat's wife and daughter were reported to be heading to Ram Allah from Paris to be by his side.


Varying diagnosis

Arafat has been ill for two weeks, but reports about his ailment have varied widely.

 

"It is feared if he [Arafat] leaves, he will not be allowed to go back"

Asma Khudr, Jordanian government spokeswoman

Late on Wednesday, doctors rushed to the sandbagged, partially demolished compound where he has been confined by Israel for two and a half years.


Arafat was having soup during a meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Quraya, former prime minister Mahmud Abbas, and another official between 8 and 9pm when he vomited, according to a bodyguard who was in the compound at the time.

Medical sources said he suffered spells of dizziness and nausea.

An official who insisted on anonymity said: "The man is very weak and his face is very yellowish. We are concerned about his life."

Palestinian Legislative Council member Hanan Ashrawi, who visited Arafat shortly before noon, said: "He is very frail and in serious condition - it is obviously more than just a flu."

A high-ranking PA official said he had effectively not eaten any food for the last five days.

"Everything he ate, he would throw it up, and we don't know why," he said.

Power struggle

 

After visiting him at the compound, where hundreds of Palestinians gathered, Communications Minister Azzam Ahmad said: "He is in a stable condition, but there is no improvement. He was joking with us but he needs more medication and tests."


Ahmad earlier told Aljazeera "we are preparing ourselves for everything possible", while Ashrawi expressed anxiety about "a power struggle" between contentious factions, especially within the Fatah movement which Arafat has headed since its creation nearly 40 years ago.

 

The PLO leadership is set to meet on Thursday to discuss the situation.

 

Israeli threats

Another Aljazeera correspondent in Gaza reported that supporters and well-wishers of Arafat have taken to the streets to express their support for the him.

Israel has repeatedly threatened
to expel the Palestinian leader

In previous months, Israel has repeatedly threatened to expel - or even assassinate - the Palestinian leader as it had set a precedent with other Palestinian resistance leaders such as Shaikh Ahmad Yasin and Abd al-Aziz Rantisi, among others.

Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said on Thursday: "Israel would be willing, under certain conditions, to start negotiating with any new Palestinian leadership if Yasir Arafat dies."

Contingency plan

Meanwhile, the Israeli army has prepared a "contingency plan"  for his death.

It is to remain outside Palestinian population centres and refrain from provocative public celebrations in case of his death.

The plan also urges Israel to allow a "dignified burial".

Arafat has on many occasion voiced his desire to be buried in East Jerusalem, specifically in the esplanade of the Haram al-Sharif.

However, the Israeli government has said repeatedly it would not allow him to be buried in Jerusalem.
 
Palestinian officials have suggested that an alternative place of burial might the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Abu Dis.

Additional reporting by Khalid Amayreh in the West Bank