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'Frail' Arafat arrives in Paris
October 29, 2004
Ailing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has arrived in France for urgent medical tests over what doctors say is a low blood platelet count.

Mr Arafat, 75, travelled from his Ramallah compound to an air base near Paris, from where he was flown by helicopter to a military hospital.

Palestinian ministers said he was "very frail" but it was a temporary setback.

The Palestinian Authority, the prime minister and legislative council will take over leadership in his absence.

We hope that he gets the medical care that he needs to return to health
US State Department

Worldwide concern for Arafat
In pictures: Arafat crisis
Mr Arafat and his doctors were transferred by helicopter from the Villacoublay air base to the Percy military hospital in Clamart, near Paris.

Security at the hospital, which has more than 100 doctors and specialises in blood disorders, has been tightened.

The French defence ministry said Mr Arafat's arrival had been delayed after his plane had to skirt around Israeli airspace because France has no permanent overflight agreement.

Wearing a military overcoat, Mr Arafat waved to officials and bodyguards as he left his Ramallah compound on Friday morning for the first time in two-and-a-half years.

Yasser Arafat and aides
Video footage of Arafat with his aides was shown on Thursday

A large crowd of chanting supporters surrounded the helicopter, and hundreds more watched from rooftops, as Mr Arafat left for the Jordanian capital, Amman, on the initial leg of his journey.

Mr Arafat was accompanied by his wife, Suha, who had arrived in Ramallah from Paris a day earlier to see her husband for the first time in four years.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath, who travelled with Mr Arafat to Amman, said his leader had become "very weak, quite frail", with significant weight loss over 16 days of illness.

He insisted Mr Arafat's absence would be temporary, saying: "He is a sick man who needs treatment. That is the first thing on our mind, and for that he should be given time in hospital."

Mr Shaath said all the institutions were in place to run matters in Mr Arafat's absence.

'Return assured'

In Ramallah, Mr Arafat's mother-in-law Reemonda al-Tawil said the Palestinian leader was in good spirits but people were fearful.

Yasser Arafat
Arafat is a Palestinian resistance symbol, but he is a failure as a leader
Jeff, Cincinnati, USA

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France's history as ally
"We all hope that he will come back safe to us," she said. "It's very moving, everybody is crying.

"He is more than a spiritual leader - he is a father, he is everything to us."

Israel's government has said it will not hinder Mr Arafat's return to the West Bank after his treatment.

But Israeli defence and foreign ministers on Friday suggested they might oppose that position.

Arafat adviser Nabil Abu Rudeinah insisted Israel had agreed to guarantees sought by the US, European and Arab nations that Mr Arafat would be allowed back.

The BBC's Barbara Plett says Israel, which has long held Mr Arafat responsible for militant violence, is probably keen not to be seen as responsible in any way for the death of the Palestinian leader.

Mr Arafat's doctor, Ashraf Kurdi, said the veteran leader was suffering from a low blood platelet count and needed further tests. He has ruled out leukaemia.

Washington has said it hopes Mr Arafat will get the "medical care that he needs to return to health".

Palestinian officials on Thursday released video of their leader looking pale but smiling with doctors.

There is a huge sense among Palestinians that this is a moment of crisis, the BBC's Alan Johnston reports from Gaza City.

He says there is little talk now of Mr Arafat's failings as an administrator and ordinary Palestinians are very much hoping that the old man, as they often call him, will pull through.


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