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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 October, 2003, 13:56 GMT 14:56 UK
Arafat 'heart attack' denied
A senior member of the Palestinian cabinet has rejected media reports that Yasser Arafat recently suffered a mild heart attack.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Speculation over Mr Arafat's health has persisted
The 74-year-old Palestinian leader looked pale and tired during the ceremony to swear in an emergency cabinet on Tuesday, and some reports say he needed prompting from his aides.

But Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat told the Associated Press news agency that Mr Arafat had not suffered a heart attack, but was battling a stomach virus.

The Palestinian leader was not present at the first full meeting of the new cabinet, held in a newly designed government headquarters in Ramallah on Wednesday.

He remains confined to his own compound in the city.

Ministers said they would present their programme to the Palestinian Legislative Council on Thursday.

This will be followed by a vote of confidence that is seen by many as an important step towards giving legitimacy for the new team, says the BBC's James Reynolds.

Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath says the new cabinet will try to achieve a ceasefire on both sides and will then implement as yet unspecified security measures.

But Israeli Labour minister Zevulon Orlev has rejected the ceasefire proposal.

He said the new Palestinian Prime Minister, Ahmed Qurei, needed to prove himself through action - not through words.

Israeli threats

A suicide bomb attack on Saturday in the Israeli port city of Haifa, which left 19 dead, sparked renewed calls in Israel to eject Mr Arafat.

Israel decided in principle to "remove" Mr Arafat after 15 people were killed in twin suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on 9 September.

It has not said when or how it might carry out such a threat, but acknowledges that any raid on Mr Arafat's Ramallah headquarters could result in his death.

There has been speculation for some time about how long Mr Arafat has left to live, even without interference from Israel.

Some reports have suggested he suffers from the degenerative Parkinson's disease.

Exit solution

The British Guardian newspaper, quoting "aides", reported on Wednesday that Mr Arafat had suffered a slight heart attack last week but it had been kept quiet to prevent panic.

The Associated Press says Mr Arafat's personal physician was called to his compound on 29 September after fears he had been poisoned.

But the doctor later said Mr Arafat was suffering from a stomach flu and he was in relatively good health.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Jonathan Peled said Israel "probably would" allow Mr Arafat to leave the compound, where he has been confined for nearly two years, if he needs specialist medical treatment.

But it is unclear whether he would be allowed to return, which analysts say would be one solution to Israel's "Arafat problem".




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