RAMALLAH, West Bank – Yasser Arafat's (search) advisers said Wednesday that the 74-year-old Palestinian leader has the stomach flu and continues to be weak, but denied a report that he suffered a mild heart attack.
In brief appearances this week, Arafat looked drawn and pale and his lower lip trembled considerably. He spoke with great effort and with prompting from his chief adviser, Nabil Abu Rdeneh (search). At times, he appeared in a daze, staring straight ahead.
The British newspaper The Guardian on Wednesday quoted Arafat aides as saying he had a "slight heart attack" last week, but that the incident was kept secret for fear of creating panic.
Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat (search) denied Wednesday that Arafat suffered a heart attack, saying the Palestinian leader is battling a stomach virus.
On Sept. 29, Arafat's personal physician, Dr. Ashraf al-Kurdi rushed from Jordan to Arafat's compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah to examine the Palestinian leader. At the time, Arafat had been unable to keep down his food for three days, and Palestinian sources said he feared at the time that he had been poisoned.
Al-Kurdi, accompanied by a neurologist, an internist and a heart specialist, said after the check-up that Arafat was in relatively good health.
However, Arafat has not improved since that visit, his aides said on condition of anonymity. Arafat continues to pick at his food and requires a lot of rest.
Several years ago, Arafat developed noticeable tremors in his lower lip. Doctors have said it was a nervous tic. Media reports have speculated he suffers from Parkinson's disease, a degenerative neurological disease.
Arafat has been confined for nearly two years to his Ramallah compound by Israeli sieges and threats that he would not be allowed to return if he left.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Jonathan Peled said Wednesday that Israel "probably would" permit Arafat to leave the compound if he needs to be treated at a hospital.
"We're following it (Arafat's health)," Peled said. "I wouldn't say we're worried, or upset or anything. We're simply following it."
In response to twin homicide bombings last month, Israel threatened to "remove" Arafat as an obstacle to peace, but did not say whether it intended to expel or kill him, and when it would take action.
After a weekend bombing killed 19 people in a Haifa restaurant, there were new demands in Israel to expel Arafat. However, the government did not make good on its threats, in part because of U.S. opposition to expulsion.
Israel charges that Arafat is responsible for three years of Mideast violence. Palestinians reply that Arafat is their elected leader, and Israeli occupation is behind the violence.