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Arafat goes to France

by: Larry James - Last updated: 2004-10-29

Yasser Arafat

Yasser Arafat

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat has left his West Bank compound in Ramallah for urgent medical treatment in France.

A dark limousine, surrounded by security guards and his closest aides, shuttled the Palestinian leader from his Muqata compound to a waiting Jordanian military helicopter for the short flight to Amman. A throng of well wishers crowded around the vehicles, blocking a clear view of the transfer of Mr Arafat to the helicopter. One television camera managed to catch a glimpse of the Palestinian leader in overcoat and knit cap smiling as he boarded the aircraft.

From the Jordanian capital, he will board a French plane for a flight to Paris and medical treatment. Mr Arafat's condition has still not been diagnosed. His personal physician, Dr. Ashraf Kurdi, said more tests will be needed before the cause can be found but he ruled out leukemia as being responsible for a low white cell blood count. Dr Kurdi described his patient as being in good condition and that his spirits are good.

For the past two weeks Mr. Arafat had been suffering from what Palestinian officials first said was the flu but which worsened on Wednesday night leading to a sudden collapse and loss of consciousness. His condition has since stabilized.

Photos released by his aides show a visibly weak and frail-looking 75-year-old man. Two Jordanian helicopters arrived at the Muqata compound shortly after sunrise. The area had to be prepared to receive the aircraft since Palestinian security officials had covered the open space with old vehicles and other debris as a defense against a possible air assault by Israel.

The shattered compound has been surrounded at times by Israeli troops for more than two years and at times has come under attack by Israel. The Israelis say the facility is being used as a refuge by militants on their wanted list.

Mr Arafat has not left the compound since 2001 fearing he might be subject to seizure by Israel or that Israel might not let him return. But since falling ill on Wednesday night, Israel agreed to let Mr Arafat leave his compound and gave assurances that he would be allowed to return.

Palestinian officials have not said what procedures will be put into place while Mr Arafat is indisposed but have said the Palestinian Authority will continue to function in his absence.

Story supplied by: VOAnews