Arafat Doctors Deny Cancer Rumors

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat attends Friday prayers inside his headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah Friday Sept. 26, 2003. Israel is determined to "remove" Arafat one day, taking into account that the Palestinian leader might get hurt as he is seized by Israeli troops, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in an interview published Friday. ( AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
Yasser Arafat has a minor stomach ailment and is responding well to treatment, two of his doctors said Thursday, denying burgeoning rumors that the pale, wan 74-year-old Palestinian leader is suffering from more serious diseases.

Arafat has appeared in poor health in recent days, and aides said he had intestinal flu. His lip tremor was more pronounced than in the past months, and at times he appeared unfocused and dazed, triggering reports and rumors that he had suffered a heart attack or had stomach cancer or other severe illnesses.

However, his personal physician, Dr. Ashraf al-Kurdi, and gastroenterologist Dr. Ala Toukan told The Associated Press on Thursday that the dire reports are untrue.

The doctors, who rushed from Jordan to Arafat's compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah to examine the Palestinian leader September 29, stood by their diagnosis of a relatively minor stomach disorder.

"President Arafat has a stomach ailment," al-Kurdi said in a telephone interview from Amman, Jordan. "Reports that he had a heart attack or is suffering from stomach cancer are completely untrue."

Reports of Arafat's state of health pushed aside most local news on Israeli TV and radio on Thursday, as Israeli media fed the rumor mill. Two Israeli TV stations conducted their own interviews with al-Kurdi. Israel's government has labeled Arafat an obstacle to peace and has threatened to "remove" him.

There is less concern on the Palestinian street, because the Palestinian press and Arabic TV channels are not carrying the reports that Arafat is seriously ill.

The British newspaper The Guardian on Wednesday quoted Arafat aides as saying he had a "slight heart attack" last week, but it was kept secret for fear of creating panic.

On Thursday the Egyptian newspaper Asharq al-Awsat quoted an anonymous Palestinian official as saying Arafat was "suffering from a tumor in the intestines, and he needs an urgent surgical operation to remove the tumor, which might be benign or malignant."

Time Magazine, on it Web site, on Thursday quoted a source inside Arafat's office as saying that a "working diagnosis" was that Arafat had stomach cancer.

But Toukan also denied the reports of such a serious illness.

"(Arafat) has a transient inflammation of the stomach," he said in a telephone interview from Amman. "He's responded well to treatment ... and is doing well."

Toukan said he has been in contact with Arafat's Palestinian doctors since leaving Ramallah and was confident he was receiving excellent treatment.

"If he is seriously ill, he won't get any sympathy from the Israeli or U.S. governments," reports CBS News Correspondent Dan Raviv.
Both describe Arafat as an obstacle to peace. But, as Raviv says, some American diplomats are concerned that the question of who would succeed Arafat would lead to a violent, power-struggle.

Arafat canceled an appearance Thursday evening and was not seen in public on Thursday.

Several years ago, Arafat developed noticeable tremors in his lower lip. Doctors have said it was a nervous tic. Media reports and doctors have speculated he suffers from Parkinson's disease, a degenerative neurological disorder.

Confined for nearly two years by Israeli forces to his Ramallah compound, Arafat has been able to keep his medical condition a secret, says Raviv. But he may not be able to get the treatment he needs, if, for instance, surgery is called-for.

However, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Jonathan Peled said Wednesday that Israel "probably would" permit Arafat to leave the compound if he needs to be treated at a hospital.

But if he were to go to some other country for treatment, it's questionable whether the Israelis would allow him to return to return to the West Bank or Gaza.