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Arafat May Go To Jordan Hospital

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was expected to be moved from his West Bank compound to a hospital in the Jordanian capital of Amman later Thursday, a Palestinian official said.

The ailing 75-year-old Arafat is in serious condition from an undisclosed ailment, and Israel has given permission for him to leave his headquarters, where he has been sequestered for nearly three years.

"He needs more medical tests and the Mukata is not the proper place for this," a Palestinian cabinet minister told the Jerusalem Post.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in a telephone conversation with his Egyptian counterpart, agreed to allow Arafat to be flown abroad for treatment but it remained unclear if that would happen.

"The Israeli government is most certainly trying to bend over backwards to make it appear that it is doing whatever it can to allow Arafat to receive whatever treatment he needs," said CBS News Reporter David Jablinowitz, reporting from Arafat's compound. "There is a view in Israel that no matter what happens, Israel will be blamed for his death, if that's what ultimately happens."

On Wednesday evening, the 75-year-old leader's persistent two-week illness had taken a sudden turn for the worse. Arafat vomited after eating soup, then collapsed and was unconscious for about 10 minutes, a bodyguard said.

Aides urgently summoned doctors from Jordan and Egypt, and Arafat's wife, Suha arrived in Ramallah to be by his side. Mrs. Arafat lives in Paris, and has not seen her husband since 2001.

That indicates the seriousness of Arafat's condition, reports Jablinowitz.

Arafat performed pre-dawn prayers Thursday and later had cornflakes for breakfast, said Monib al-Masri, a long-time friend of Arafat who visited the Palestinian leader Thursday. "He prayed and he is fully awake," al-Masri told The Associated Press.

Arafat has been confined to the sandbagged, partially demolished compound by occasional Israeli military blockades and by threats that he would not be allowed to return if he leaves.

However, Israeli security officials said Thursday that Israel is ready to guarantee Arafat's return should he seek treatment abroad.

Late Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon spoke by phone with his Palestinian counterpart, Ahmed Qureia, and agreed in principle to allow Arafat to be flown abroad, if necessary. The two men did not discuss whether Israel would ensure Arafat would be able to return, said Sharon aide Asaf Shariv.

Palestinian officials were giving conflicting assessments of Arafat's condition. Some insisted he was stable, while others said he was in serious condition.

"The situation is stable now, he is in stable condition, but he needs more rest and more medical care," said Arafat spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh. But a senior cabinet minister, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Israel's Haaretz newspaper that Arafat was "very, very sick."

"We are preparing ourselves for everything possible," Palestinian Communications Minister Azzam Ahmed told the Al-Jazeera satellite television station.

One Palestinian official said Arafat has created a special committee consisting of Qureia, Abbas, and Salim Zaanoun, head of the Palestinian National Council, to run the PLO and the Palestinian Authority while he is ill.

But when asked if Arafat had set up such a committee, Arafat spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh said: "Nothing like that."

In Israel, defense officials were meeting Thursday to discuss the fallout from Arafat's possible death. Israel has prepared contingency plans, including how to deal with possible riots and prevent Palestinian attempts to bury Arafat in Jerusalem.

Haaretz reported Thursday that Israel has marked a possible burial site for Arafat in the Jerusalem suburb of Abu Dis, in the West Bank, and has taken the location of the plot into consideration in planning the route of its West Bank separation barrier.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said a Palestinian Authority without Arafat could become a partner for peace. "We always said we would be willing to talk to a Palestinian leadership that would be willing once and for all to bring an end to the bloodshed," Shalom told Israel Radio.

Arafat has been ill for two weeks, but reports about his ailment have varied widely.

Palestinian officials said he had the flu. Israeli officials speculated he might have stomach cancer, but two of his doctors said Wednesday a blood test and a biopsy of tissue from his digestive tract showed no evidence of that.

On Tuesday, a hospital official said Arafat was suffering from a large gallstone. The gallstone, while extremely painful, is not life-threatening and can be easily treated, the official said.

Dr. Ashraf Kurdi, head of the Jordanian team heading to Ramallah, told The Associated Press that he was urgently summoned to Arafat's compound but was given no details by the Palestinians' aides.

"I tried to get a medical report from them. I couldn't get anything," he said.

Israeli officials speculated Arafat had suffered a stroke. Arafat has shown symptoms of Parkinson's disease since the late 1990s.

As Arafat's condition worsened Wednesday, a senior Palestinian official told the AP that a decision to move Arafat from his compound to a hospital would be made purely on medical grounds, without considering politics.

Arafat's health crisis has highlighted how unprepared the Palestinians are for their leader's death, making a chaotic transition period all but inevitable. Arafat has refused to groom a successor, fearing an impatient protege could turn on him.

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