Arafat's Wife Lashes Out at Top Aides

Yasser Arafat's (search) wife on Monday accused his top lieutenants of seeking to grab control from her ailing husband, nearly torpedoing a visit by three top Palestinian officials in the first sign of an open power struggle while Arafat clings to life.

In a screaming telephone call from Arafat's hospital bedside, Suha Arafat (search) told Al-Jazeera television that Arafat's aides were conspiring to usurp her husband's four-decade-long role as Palestinian leader.

"Let it be known to the honest Palestinian people that a bunch of those who want to inherit are coming to Paris," she shouted in Arabic in her first public comments since Arafat left his West Bank compound for France.

"I tell you they are trying to bury Abu Ammar alive," she continued, using Arafat's nom de guerre. "He is all right and he is going home."

In response, Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (search), Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath and Mahmoud Abbas, the former prime minister and deputy chairman of Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization, briefly canceled a planned trip to Paris on Monday to consult with Arafat's doctors and French officials. Shaath later said the trip was back on.

A senior aide to Arafat, Tayeb Abdel Rahim, originally said the three were angry with Arafat's wife and didn't want to travel to Paris.

"What came from Suha doesn't represent our people," he said. "If the president were to hear that, he would reject it completely."

He said Mrs. Arafat "wanted to destroy the Palestinian leadership's decision and to be the lone decision-maker."

Mrs. Arafat said she was calling from Arafat's bedside at the French military hospital, where the 75-year-old leader has been in intensive care since Wednesday.

A producer from Al-Jazeera told The Associated Press the station was confident it was Suha Arafat on the phone. She first called the network's Ramallah office, then its headquarters in Qatar.

Her insistence that Arafat was doing fine came a day after French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier called his condition "very complex, very serious and stable right now."

Palestinians have been making contingency plans in the event of Arafat's death.

Qureia and Abbas have been working together to run Palestinian affairs in Arafat's absence and to prevent chaos and violence if the Palestinian leader dies. Qureia has taken on some of Arafat's executive and security powers, while Abbas has been chairing meetings of the PLO's executive body.

Jamil Tarifi, the Palestinian minister of civil affairs, told Al-Jazeera the group was initially hesitant about going, but that the executive committee decided the trip would help "reassure" worried Palestinians.

Some Palestinians have complained Suha Arafat has gained too much power. She controls the flow of information about Arafat's condition and has taken charge of access to her husband.

"She is not part of the Palestinian leadership," Arafat security adviser Jibril Rajoub told Israel's Channel Two TV on Sunday.

Mrs. Arafat, 41, lives in Paris and has not been to the West Bank or had not seen her husband since the latest round of Palestinian violence began in 2000.

She also is widely believed to have control of vast funds collected by the PLO.

Palestinian leaders are working to avoid chaos or violence in the event of the death of Arafat, who has been ailing for nearly a month.

Doctors have described his condition in recent days as critical but stable and have yet to release a diagnosis.

Early Sunday, one of Arafat's senior aides, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, categorically denied Arafat was in a coma. But Shaath later told CNN that Arafat was in a "reversible" coma. He denied reports of brain or liver damage.

Asked about reports of brain death, Barnier replied: "I wouldn't say that."

Arafat's death would open the potentially explosive issue of a burial site.

Palestinian officials have said Arafat wants to be buried in Jerusalem, but Israel has rejected that demand. In Jerusalem, Israeli officials said Sunday preparations were complete for Arafat to be buried in the Gaza Strip.

Also Sunday, the Palestinian National Security Council, temporarily headed by Qureia, approved his plan for internal security, according to Palestinian officials. No details were available.

Qureia has already assumed some emergency financial and administrative powers that Arafat normally would wield. Abbas, considered a more likely successor, has chaired a series of meetings of the PLO executive committee in Arafat's absence in an effort to project unity.

Neither politician has much grassroots support among Palestinians or important militant groups.