Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) spoke with his Palestinian counterpart Thursday and agreed in principle to permit the ailing Yasser Arafat (search) to be flown abroad for medical treatment, an Israeli official said.

It remained unclear whether Arafat would be allowed to return. Israel has said in the past that Arafat could leave the West Bank, but might not be allowed to come back. Israel has confined Arafat to his headquarters for more than two years.

The Palestinian prime minister,Ahmed Qureia (search), called Sharon late Wednesday, after Arafat's health deteriorated sharply. It was the first conversation between the two men in several months.

Qureia asked Sharon for permission, in principle, to let Arafat seek medical treatment abroad, said Asaf Shariv, a Sharon aide. The official said Qureia did not ask Sharon whether Arafat would be allowed to return.

However, Israeli security officials said Thursday that Arafat would be given permission to come back to the West Bank, in an apparent change of Israeli policy.