Palestinian envoy says initial tests show Yasser Arafat does not have leukemia

Saturday, October 30th 2004, 11:47 am
By: News On 6

PARIS (AP) _ Specialists were running tests Saturday on the ailing Yasser Arafat to determine whether his mysterious illness is leukemia, and a diplomat said initial results found no sign of the blood cancer in the Palestinian leader.

The tests have been conducted since the 75-year-old Arafat arrived at a military hospital on the outskirts of Paris on Friday. He has been sick for two weeks and blood tests have revealed he has a low platelet count _ a possible symptom of leukemia, other cancers or a number of other maladies.

Leila Shahid, the Palestinian envoy to France, told reporters in the evening that doctors ``exclude, already from what he has done in terms of exams, any possibility of leukemia. I repeat: the doctors exclude for the time being any possibility of leukemia.''

It was not immediately clear if more test results were expected. Top Arafat aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh said the first results would come in the evening and that ``within 24 to 48 hours, we should know what he's facing.''

Shahid said Arafat's ``general condition between yesterday and today ... is much better both physically and psychologically.'' She refused to answer questions.

Earlier in the day, a Palestinian official who spoke on condition of anonymity said there was a strong possibility Arafat was suffering from leukemia.

``It looks like it's leukemia,'' the official told The Associated Press. ``They are trying to find out if in fact it is leukemia, and if so, what type. They are trying to see what is the best way to treat it.''

However, Abu Rdeneh said he was ``sure'' Arafat did not have leukemia.

Arafat was sleeping most of the time when he was not undergoing tests, one Palestinian officails said. Another said Arafat got out of bed briefly early Saturday and was able to speak a few words to doctors. A core team of about nine doctors was working on the Palestinian leader.

Arafat _ who had not left his sandbagged Ramallah compound in nearly three years _ could remain in France for four to five weeks, said one official.

Arafat received a transfusion of platelets shortly after being rushed Friday from his headquarters in Ramallah to France for treatment at the Hopital d'Instruction des Armees de Percy, a military teaching hospital southwest of Paris that specializes in blood disorders and trauma care.

Platelets are blood components that aid in clotting. A low count can be caused by many medical problems, including bleeding ulcers, colitis, leukemia and lymphoma, liver disease, lupus and chickenpox.

Admirers gathering outside the hospital wished Arafat well.

``Our presence here is in solidarity with the president,'' said Jihad Al-Qura, 52, who said he was exiled by Israel in 1989. Arafat is ``the symbol of the struggle of the Palestinian people.''

Arafat was rushed to France after he took a turn for the worse Wednesday night, collapsing and briefly losing consciousness _ and doctors in Ramallah admitted they didn't know the cause of the low platelet count.

Palestinians were beginning to consider how their world would look without Arafat, the only leader they have known for nearly four decades.

Anxious to maintain an air of normalcy, the top committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization held its regularly weekly meeting in the Ramallah compound, leaving the iconic leader's chair at the head of the conference table empty.

Mahmoud Abbas, the secretary-general of the PLO executive committee, chaired the meeting _ remaining in his usual seat to Arafat's right. Officials cautioned against seeing the meeting as a signal Abbas is ready to take over from Arafat.

``This is a normal meeting about the situation and about an action plan,'' said Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian legislator. ``I don't think we will have a political vacuum.''

On Sunday, Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia was to convene the National Security Council, in charge of all the security forces in the West Bank and Gaza. Arafat normally chairs the NSC, but instructed Qureia to convene the council as usual in his absence, officials said.

About 1,000 Palestinian students rallied Saturday at Nablus University in the West Bank, many of them carrying Arafat's portrait. ``I can't even imagine another Palestinian leader other than Arafat,'' said Naheb Mustapha, 20, a student of English dressed in a full-length black robe and veil. ``I pray that Allah will take care of him,'' she said.