Published October 30, 2004
CLAMART, France – Initial results from a battery of tests on Yasser Arafat (search) found no signs Saturday of leukemia, a Palestinian diplomat said, and blood doctors were still probing the cause of the ailing Palestinian leader's dramatic deterioration in health.
After being rushed from the West Bank to a French military hospital, the 75-year-old Arafat "spent a very good night" and awoke Saturday "in very good humor, rested," said Leila Shahid, the Palestinian envoy to France.
"The doctors exclude, already from what he has done in terms of exams, any possibility of leukemia," Shahid told reporters. "I repeat: the doctors exclude for the time being any possibility of leukemia."
Earlier, a Palestinian official who spoke on condition of anonymity had said there was a strong possibility Arafat was suffering from the bone and blood cancer and that a team of French physicians specializing in the disorder examined the Palestinian leader for a second day Saturday.
Shahid, speaking in several languages to reporters outside the Percy military training hospital southwest of Paris, did not take questions or explain what she meant by "for the time being" or whether results from further tests on leukemia (search) were pending.
In Arabic, she said other tests also have "not shown any sign of other dangerous disease." But "there are other possibilities and we are still exploring," she added in English.
In an interview with Palestinian Satellite Channel television, Shahid said Arafat spent half the day undergoing medical treatment and spoke by phone to his young daughter, Zahwa, in Tunisia.
"So far the test results are good," Shahid said. "The president is relaxing now, and he hopes he will return to take up his responsibilities soon."
Testing for leukemia usually involves blood smear tests and examination of bone marrow aspirate and of a bone marrow biopsy. Results from the blood tests and the bone marrow aspirate usually are clear within a few hours. However, it takes several days to get results from a biopsy.
One possibility is that a blood smear test revealed no leukemia cells but doctors are waiting for results of a bone marrow test, which is more likely to show abnormalities.
A blood test may also have shown no sign of leukemia, but evidence of a different, non-cancerous disease.
In Ramallah, where Palestinian officials put on a show of unity to dispel concerns about possible chaos and infighting in Arafat's absence, the Palestinian foreign minister also said initial test results were encouraging.
"The president is in good health. So far, all the tests have been good and have shown no serious problem," said Nabil Shaath as he entered a meeting of the top committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (search).
It was one of the few weekly sessions of the PLO executive committee held over past decades without Arafat presiding. Convened by Arafat's deputy, Mahmoud Abbas, it was held in the Palestinian leader's office in the crumbling compound where he had been confined by Israel for nearly three years until being airlifted to Paris.
Abbas, a former Palestinian prime minister who has feuded with Arafat in the past, declined to sit in Arafat's chair at the head of the conference table.
"There is no vacuum and things will go on as if Arafat is here," said Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat.
Arafat had been sick for two weeks but took a turn for the worse on Wednesday when he collapsed and briefly lost consciousness. Blood tests revealed a low platelet count — a possible symptom of leukemia, other cancers or other maladies. It is also possible that the platelet problem has nothing to do with what is making him sick.
French physicians gave Arafat a transfusion of platelets — blood components that aid clotting — that helped increase his count, but they did not know whether the improvement was permanent, said a Palestinian official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The official said Arafat was sleeping most of the time when he was not undergoing tests. Other Palestinian sources said Arafat got out of bed briefly early Saturday and was able to speak a few words to doctors.
"We can say that his general condition between yesterday and today, between last week — before he came — and today is much better, both physically and psychologically," said Shahid.
Outside the hospital, well-wishers and admirers gathered in an anxious wait for news and shouted slogans of support.
"Arafat shall live," "Arafat shall return," and "With our blood and our souls, we sacrifice to you, Palestine," chanted the group of about 20 people, mostly young Arab students, some carrying Palestinian flags.
Some blamed the Israeli siege of Arafat's Ramallah compound for his illness.
"The reason why he is sick here is because of the way he has been treated for the past two years. What they did to him was an insult to all of us here," said Majid Bamiyeh, a Palestinian student.
"He is our commander and our symbol. We don't have a government and our rights have been violated, so he is everything to us," added Samiha Abu Mayzar, another student.