Israel OKs Medical Treatment for Arafat

Israel gave Yasser Arafat (search) permission Monday to briefly leave his compound to receive medical treatment in the West Bank city of Ramallah (search), heightening concerns the Palestinian leader is seriously ill.

Palestinian officials said Arafat was recovering from a lengthy bout of the flu but was feeling better and would not accept Israel's offer.

The decision by Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz would allow Arafat to leave his compound in Ramallah for the first time in 21/2 years.

The Defense Ministry said in a statement that Arafat would be allowed to leave his compound, the Muqata, for medical checks in a Ramallah hospital on condition he returns afterward. The ministry said the Palestinians had requested that Arafat, who is recovering from a long bout of flu, be allowed to leave for checkups.

But Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat (search) denied Palestinian officials had made such a request and said they had no intention of taking up the offer.

"We did not ask the Israelis for permission to take President Arafat to the hospital and there is no need, as Arafat is recovering in the Muqata [compound]," Erekat said.

Arafat, 75, has a medical clinic in the compound.

Arafat's health has been the subject of intense speculation in recent weeks after two teams of Tunisian and Egyptian doctors were flown in to examine him.

The Israeli media have speculated in recent days that Arafat may be suffering from more than the flu, with some reports saying Arafat is ill with cancer.

"We are used to hearing rumors from the Israelis about the president's health," Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an Arafat aide, said.

Arafat aides said he fell ill two weeks ago, suffering from fever, nausea and a stuffy nose. He has been feeling better in recent days, has resumed eating and even presided over a lively meeting of his national security council Sunday, Palestinian officials said.

Arafat was laughing and appeared healthy at another meeting with Palestinian officials later Sunday that journalists, including an Associated Press reporter, were allowed to observe briefly.

In the latest round of tests on Monday, the five Tunisian doctors, together with Palestinian doctors, examined Arafat, carrying out a series of tests including an endoscopy to check his stomach.

Arafat had been complaining of stomach pains before the test, but no problems were found, a Palestinian doctor who was there said on condition of anonymity.

Last year, Arafat suffered from gall stones, and his aides denied reports, including from Channel One Television, that he had stomach cancer.

The Palestinian doctor said the tests were unable to determine why Arafat continues to suffer from fatigue as he recovers from the flu.

Arafat has not left his compound since 2002 for fear of being snatched by Israeli troops. In the past Israel, which accuses Arafat of stoking violent attacks against it, has said Arafat was free to leave the compound and even to travel abroad, but it would not guarantee he would be allowed to return.

Israel would only allow Arafat to get treatment inside Ramallah, according to the defense ministry. The decision was made in conjunction with the army chief of staff and the head of the Shin Bet security service.