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Arafat Congratulates Bush, Touts 'Road Map'

An ailing Yasser Arafat (search) congratulated President Bush (search) on his re-election and expressed hope that a second term will spark new life to the Middle East peace process, an aide to the Palestinian leader said Wednesday.

Arafat expressed new determination to revive the so-called "road map" — the stalled peace plan between Palestinians and Israelis that Bush supports — and hopes the U.S. administration will be "more engaged" in the process, said Mohammed Rashid.

Arafat "declares the readiness of the Palestinian leadership to cooperate and work with (Bush) to resume political efforts to bring about peace and the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the president's vision" in the road map, Rashid said, who is Arafat's financial adviser.

Other Palestinian leaders expressed similar aspirations to those of Arafat, who is in France for emergency medical treatment.

Earlier, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (search) said the Palestinians will cooperate with whoever was chosen by American voters in Tuesday's presidential race, and he urged Bush to do more to help broker an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

"Our duty is not to choose the American president but to cooperate with him," Qureia said in Ramallah. "We hope that the re-election of Bush would be an opportunity for a change in his administration's positions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said he hoped there would be "a change in the policy that gave (Bush's) support for the Israeli Prime Minister (Ariel) Sharon and refused cooperation with President Arafat."

The United States has refused to deal with Arafat, calling him a disappointment and a hindrance to peacemaking with Israel.

Arafat, 75, has been in a French military hospital outside Paris since Friday for treatment of an undisclosed illness. He felt well enough to ask about the U.S. presidential election, said Leila Shahid, the Palestinian envoy to France.

Israeli officials offered a more cautious assessment.

"We are tracking his condition very carefully, our goal is to prepare for the day after, if and when he dies," Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom told Israel Radio on Wednesday. "There is no doubt his condition is very serious."

The Israeli military intelligence latest judgment was that doctors are considering that Arafat has either a viral stomach disorder that can be treated or some form of stomach cancer.

Quoting unnamed international sources, Israel radio also reported that Arafat was not always lucid in conversations and was expected to remain in the hospital for five weeks.

Shahid, one of only a few people with direct access to Arafat in the hospital, said Tuesday that tests had shown an improvement in Arafat's white blood cell count but also "persistent abnormalities" in indicators for digestive function. She gave no details.

Initial tests "confirmed an abnormal blood count, high white blood cell count and low platelet count and ruled out the diagnosis of leukemia," she said. Doctors were still investigating.

"President Arafat's condition has improved sufficiently for him to undergo tests that would not have been performed upon admission," Shahid said, reading from a statement she said was drafted by the French military hospital treating Arafat and released with his consent.

Arafat, who has been ill for three weeks, took a turn for the worse a week ago, collapsing and briefly losing consciousness. Initial blood tests performed while he was still in Ramallah in the West Bank revealed a low blood platelet count. Platelets are blood components that aid clotting.

Physicians gave Arafat a platelet transfusion shortly after he was urgently transported from his battered Ramallah headquarters to the Percy military hospital southwest of Paris on Friday.