RAMALLAH, West Bank – Yasser Arafat (search) has a large gallstone, a Palestinian hospital official said Tuesday, as the weakened Palestinian leader broke his Ramadan (search) fast and underwent more medical tests at the urging of his doctors.
The gallstone is not life threatening and can be easily treated, the official told The Associated Press.
Palestinian officials have insisted Arafat, 75, was recovering from a lengthy bout of the flu. However, a Palestinian doctor who has examined Arafat recently said he has been inexplicably exhausted in recent weeks. Israeli officials speculated he was suffering from stomach cancer.
Teams of Egyptian and Tunisian doctors have examined him in recent days. On Monday, he underwent an endoscopy, or exam of the digestive tract. And he has not led Muslim evening prayers at the makeshift mosque in his compound, as he has done in the past during the fasting month of Ramadan.
A hospital official said ultrasound and X-ray machines were brought to Arafat's compound two days ago to perform tests on his chest and stomach. The ultrasound uncovered a 1-centimeter-long gallstone that did not register on the X-ray.
Doctors recommended Arafat undergo minor surgery to remove the stone, but he has not yet responded, the source said.
Gallstones range in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball and ultrasound is considered a good way to diagnose them. If Arafat was prescribed medications that cannot be taken on an empty stomach, doctors likely would ask him to break his Ramadan fast. Hydration also is recommended to treat gallstones.
Arafat suffered from gallstones last year, and his aides denied rumors he had stomach cancer. In recent years, Arafat has developed a tremor in his lips and hands, considered a possible symptom of Parkinson's disease (search).
Doctors have urged Arafat to rest and break the dawn-to-dusk Ramadan fast, saying he needs liquids and must take his medication at regular intervals. For the first 11 days of Ramadan, Arafat refused, but on Tuesday he broke the fast for the first time, said a confidant, Sakher Habash, who visited the Palestinian leader.
Arafat — who has complained of stomach pain — was to undergo more testing Tuesday, including blood tests, an official close to the Palestinian leader said on condition of anonymity.
Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, said Israel is closely monitoring Arafat.
"Obviously, we are very interested in the chairman, from all the angles," Gilad told Israel Army Radio.
Israeli intelligence officials, who are keeping Arafat under close surveillance, speculated Arafat might be suffering from cancer.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (search), who visited Arafat at his compound Tuesday, said Arafat was feeling better.
"He needs some time to recover completely, but it's nothing dangerous," Qureia said.
Arafat has ruled the Palestinian areas since 1995, and no Palestinian official has emerged as a clear replacement for him. Although Israel believes Arafat is responsible for the ongoing fighting and some officials favor expelling him from the region, government officials have publicly ruled out assassination at this time, fearing angry reactions in the Arab world.
Arafat has not left his compound since 2002 for fear of being snatched by Israeli troops. 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.
On Monday, Israel agreed to allow Arafat to leave the compound to undergo tests at a Ramallah hospital. It was not clear whether Arafat would be sent for further testing outside his compound, known as the Mukataa. The compound is equipped with a small clinic.
Three hospitals in Ramallah were contributing to Arafat's care and all are operating under strict secrecy, hospital officials said. Samples taken from Arafat arrive at the hospital either unmarked or under an assumed name and are only handled by a small group of trusted health officials, the officials said.
Late Monday, former Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (search) visited Arafat for the first time in more than a year. Abbas resigned his position last year in frustration claiming that Arafat, as well as Israel, had undermined his authority. The two had not spoken since then.