Aide: Arafat Not Comatose

Yasser Arafat (search) was not in a coma but remained in intensive care Saturday after undergoing more medical tests, a senior aide to the ailing Palestinian leader said. Test results were expected within days.

Nabil Abu Rdeneh, Arafat's spokesman, would not say whether his announcement meant Arafat had emerged from a coma or whether he had not been comatose at all. He also refused to say whether he saw Arafat personally, and he did not specify the nature of the new medical tests.

"He is not in a coma," Abu Rdeneh told reporters after coming out of the French military hospital where Arafat has been treated for more than a week. "He is still in the intensive care unit.

"He is under strict medical observance. We hope that in the coming few days we will be able to know exactly what he is suffering from. So far, nobody could diagnose the situation," he said at about midnight, adding that Arafat's condition was stable.

"Right now he is sleeping."

Doctors have not yet made public any diagnosis, but the Palestinian envoy to France, Leila Shahid, said Friday that the 75-year-old Arafat was in a coma and "at a critical point between life and death."

Earlier, hospital spokesman Gen. Christian Estripeau described Arafat's condition as unchanged from Friday, when he said there had been no change — for better or worse — in his health.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (search), in a bid to preserve calm, made a rare visit to the Gaza Strip for talks with rival Palestinian groups.

Qureia met for four hours with representatives of the 13 major Palestinian factions, including Hamas (search) and Islamic Jihad, as well as security chiefs, lawmakers and officials of Arafat's Fatah faction. Such a broad gathering is extremely rare.

He was accompanied by Parliament Speaker Rauhi Fattouh, who would step in as a caretaker president of the Palestinian Authority if Arafat dies.

Arafat first fell ill nearly a month ago with symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea. He was flown to France from his West Bank compound in Ramallah a week ago after briefly passing out. On Wednesday, his condition deteriorated and he was moved to an intensive care unit.

His ailment and condition have largely remained a mystery ever since.

About 100 Arafat supporters again turned out in front of the sprawling hospital outside Paris to show their support. They chanted "Palestine Lives!" and held portraits of Arafat and Palestinian flags. Dozens of others marched through the streets in the southern city of Marseille.

On Friday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath denied that Arafat was clinically dead or on a life-support system. But he also expressed concern at the lack of improvement in Arafat's condition.

Shahid said Arafat was in a coma and suggested it occurred after he was put under anesthesia to have additional medical tests, including an endoscopy, colonoscopy and a biopsy of the spinal cord.

Endoscopy and colonoscopy, where a camera is inserted through the throat or into the colon to inspect the intestine, involves sedation but not a general anesthetic, which would induce unconsciousness. However, a spinal cord biopsy is often done under general anesthesia.

In a coma, brain cells react as if asleep because they are not getting enough blood, oxygen or sugar. The condition is either repaired during the state of coma, or the patient dies.

Brain function is dulled to a certain extent for a short time in people under anesthesia and returns once the anesthetic clears the body. But when patients are already critically ill, they may fall into a coma if their bodies do not eliminate the anesthetic properly, said brain expert Dr. Eric Braverman, director of the PATH Medical Foundation in New York.

If anesthesia was the sole cause of Arafat's coma, it is likely he will recover once the anesthetic wears off. However, if the coma was the result of serious medical problems, the chances of recovery would be smaller, Braverman said.