Published November 10, 2004
CLAMART, France – Yasser Arafat (search) is suffering from kidney and liver failure, Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath told FOX News Wednesday.
There were no other details immediately available in the latest developments on Arafat's rapidly declining health.
A top Islamic cleric was spending time with Arafat in the "final phase" of the Palestinian leader's life Wednesday, while Israeli and Palestinian officials ended the struggle over where to bury him after he dies.
Israeli on Wednesday approved a Palestinian plan to bury Arafat at his sandbagged West Bank headquarters, known as the Muqata, in Ramallah. Palestinians want to turn it into a shrine, defusing a potential conflict with Israel by dropping a demand for a Jerusalem burial.
The wrangling over what do with Arafat in death played out as the ailing 75-year-old Palestinian president hung onto life. Arafat remained in a deep coma on Wednesday, on life support machines and feeding tubes.
As Arafat's condition deteriorated, aides made plans to eventually fly his body to Cairo for a funeral, then to the West Bank for burial at his Ramallah headquarters. Palestinians also selected his immediate successor, saying the parliament speaker Rauhi Fattouh — a relative unknown — will become temporary president of the Palestinian Authority (search) at Arafat's death.
Taisser Bayoud Tamimi, the Islamic cleric, told The Associated Press before going to the hospital that he was there "to be by my longtime friend's side in his time of need and to pray for his speedy recovery."
"I prayed to God for his recovery," said Tamimi, who said he was with Arafat for more than an hour, reciting from the Muslim holy book, the Quran. Tamimi said Arafat was very sick, "but he is still alive."
Tamimi said earlier that life support machines would not be turned off "as long as there are signs of life in the body of the president."
"It is prohibited in Islam," he said.
Shaath said Tamimi — "a very close friend" of Arafat's who heads the Islamic court in the West Bank (search) and Gaza Strip (search) — was not coming to give advice on removing Arafat from life support.
But aides said Arafat's health was deteriorating, with a "complication" to his vital organs as the French medical team treating him struggled to stop the bleeding in his brain.
The Palestinian envoy to France, Leila Shahid, had insisted in an interview with France-Info radio that Tamimi was not coming "to disconnect" Arafat from life support.
"It is clear, as for a Christian, as for a Jew, that a religious man needs to be with his patient when he is in the final phase of his life," Shahid said. "That is why he is here."
Shahid told FOX News on Wednesday that Palestinian officials were making plans for a range of possibilities, including one where Arafat's condition improves and he's able to return home. But she also acknowledged that was an unlikely situation.
"It's difficult to be optimistic when you're in deep coma," she said.
At a press conference in Ramallah late Tuesday, Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said doctors were trying to relieve bleeding from a severe brain hemorrhage, which can cause brain damage.
A Palestinian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday that French doctors told the Palestinian delegation that this kind of bleeding meant that Arafat's death was expected within 24 hours — a period that has since passed.
Gen. Christian Estripeau, a hospital spokesman, told the newspaper Le Monde that Arafat's death "could be a question of hours or, perhaps, days."
Shahid said doctors at the Percy Military Training Hospital (search) were fighting to keep him alive. The physicians "are doing everything, in the intensive care unit, to try to give him his chances," she said.
But she also said that France, which sent a plane to bring Arafat to France on Oct. 29, would also organize his repatriation.
"France has already proved that it was capable, in less than 24 hours, of putting in place what was necessary to go and get him. It will organize his return home," she said.
In Ramallah, bulldozers pushed aside rubble and hauled away piles of wrecked cars to prepare the compound for Arafat's burial. Several hundred demonstrators gathered outside the compound Wednesday, waving Palestinian flags and demanding that Arafat be buried at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem — the third holiest site in Islam.
Palestinian leaders accepted an offer from Egypt to host the main funeral service in Cairo — a site less problematic for foreign dignitaries — before Arafat is buried in Ramallah.
The service could be held at Cairo's international airport, security officials in Egypt said. That would allow Arab leaders to attend without dealing with Israel, which controls access to the Palestinian territories. It also would allow foreign leaders to pay their respects without having to visit the West Bank, where Palestinian security forces might not be able to guarantee their safety.
"It was decided that the body will be brought to Cairo and there will lie in state," Erekat told The Associated Press. "After that, the body will be flown from Cairo to Ramallah."
While the exact nature of Arafat's illness remained undisclosed, his condition has steadily worsened since he was flown to the military hospital outside Paris.
Shaath gave the first detailed description of Arafat's treatment at a news conference Tuesday, after days of confusing and often conflicting reports.
The French medical team treating Arafat publicly acknowledged his comatose condition for the first time Tuesday and said it had worsened. Estripeau declined to offer a prognosis but said the deterioration in Arafat's condition marked "a significant stage."
Shaath was part of a delegation led by Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (search) and Mahmoud Abbas (search), the No. 2 man behind Arafat in the Palestine Liberation Organization (search). The group returned to the West Bank early Wednesday after a 24-hour visit.
Shaath's news conference underlined that the Palestinian leadership was now in control of information about Arafat.
Palestinian officials had been denied access by Arafat's wife, Suha Arafat (search), who used France's strict privacy laws that give authority to the family.
Shaath said a dramatic disagreement with Suha Arafat, who had accused the visiting Palestinians of trying to topple their longtime leader, had been smoothed over and that she embraced delegation members at the hospital.
"She is the wife of a great man, our leader, and is the mother of his only daughter," Shaath said. "She will always be respected and protected by the Palestinian people."
FOX News' Dana Lewis and The Associated Press contributed to this report.