Arafat plane skirts Israeli airspace

A French jet carrying ailing Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat to Paris for emergency medical treatment has been forced to skirt around Israeli airspace because of lack of authorisation.

    France and Israel do not have a permanent overflight agreement

    "France does not have a permanent overflight agreement" with the Jewish state, a spokesman said on Friday.

    Earlier, a ministry source said Paris had been hoping that Israel would allow the Dassault Falcon aircraft transporting Arafat from the Jordanian capital Amman to fly through its airspace. 

    "This would be easier than turning south and going through Egypt because that would extend the trip by more than a half hour," he said. 

    French officials said before the re-routed flight that they expected the jet to land at a military airport outside Paris around midday (1000 GMT). 

    Arafat is to be taken to the nearby Percy military hospital at
    Clamart for treatment.

    Potentially fatal

    According to one of his doctors, the Palestinian leader is suffering a potentially fatal disorder in which his white blood cells were destroying blood platelets needed for blood clotting.

    Meanwhile, the European Union pressed Israel to guarantee the return of Arafat after treatment.

    The Palestinian icon is said to be
    suffering from a blood disorder

    EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana informed the Palestinian
    representative in Brussels, Shawi al-Armali, of talks he had with Israeli authorities, the London-based al-Hayat newspaper reported.   

    Armali was quoted as saying that Palestinian Prime Minister
    Ahmad Quraya received a letter from Dov Weisglass, a top aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, giving Israel's assurances to allow Arafat to return to the Palestinian territories.

    Solana also held talks with Quraya on the "extraordinary
    situation" over Arafat's health and "European Union efforts aimed at calming the situation and helping the implementation of the unilateral [Israeli] withdrawal from the Gaza Strip", he said. 

    Guarantees given

    The US consul-general in Jerusalem informed Quraya and
    Palestinian negotiator Saib Uraiqat that "the American administration has received guarantees from Israel that it will not forbid the return of Arafat" the London-based Arab daily al-Hayat reported, quoting Palestinian sources. 

    Meanwhile, Egyptian media reported that Sharon had given assurances on Arafat's return following a phone call with Egyptian President Husni Mubarak.

    "President Mubarak underlined the necessity for Israel to guarantee the return of P

    resident Arafat to the Palestinian territories ... for his part, the Israeli Prime Minister gave Israel's agreement for Arafat to return," the official Mena news agency reported.



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