Palestinian leaders due in France

Three Palestinian leaders are expected in France as officials report that President Yasir Arafat has been diagnosed with liver failure.

    Arafat has made it clear that he wants to be buried in Jerusalem

    "His condition is not improving," a Palestinian official, who declined to be named, said on Sunday. 

    He said Palestinian officials were considering moving Arafat from Paris to Cairo for treatment, but any decision on this would have to be taken by the Palestinian leadership. 

    Late on Sunday, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmad Quraya announced he and senior Palestinian staff would fly to Paris.

    French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said Quraya, Arafat deputy Mahmud Abbas and Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath were due in the French capital on Monday.

    But a conflicting report came from Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath, who told CNN on Sunday Arafat's condition had stabilised and his coma was "reversible".

    Mixed messages

    "The latest information is that his condition is stable. It's almost the same as it was three days ago," Shaath said.

    "He is in a coma, but it is a reversible coma. All his vital functions are fine. There is no brain damage, no liver damage, no damage at all in his vital organs."

    None the less, Israel has finalised plans for Arafat to be buried in the Gaza Strip if he succumbs to his illness, Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz told the Israeli cabinet on Sunday. 

    "The defence establishment has completed preparations for an Arafat funeral in Gaza," political sources quoted Mofaz as saying. 

    "The moment we receive a Palestinian Authority request on the matter, we will implement final preparations. We still await a formal announcement of Arafat's death."

    Israel has ruled out a highly symbolic Jerusalem burial for Arafat whose Palestinian constituency sees the city as Islam's third holiest site and capital of a future Palestinian state. 

    Delicate issue

    Arafat made clear that he wanted to be buried in Jerusalem, where he was born. 

    For over two years, Arafat was
    confined to his Ram Allah offices

    The question of where he would be buried is extremely delicate, given the struggle for land behind the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

    Israel annexed mainly Arab East Jerusalem after the 1967 Middle East war in a move not recognised internationally. 

    The Palestinian president's father is buried in the Gaza Strip. Burying Arafat there would suit Israel since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon plans to withdraw all troops and settlers from the occupied territory next year. 

    Palestinian officials said another option might be the West Bank city of Ram Allah, where Arafat was penned in by Israel at his headquarters for more than two and a half years.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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