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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 October, 2004, 04:40 GMT 05:40 UK
Doctors watch over Yasser Arafat
Yasser Arafat's compound on Wednesday night
The shell-marked compound has a small clinic of its own
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has spent the night watched over by medical teams and senior aides after serious concerns for his health.

Leading Palestinians were summoned to the bedside of Mr Arafat, 75, and his wife Suha is expected to arrive later on Thursday from her home in Paris.

For over a week there have been reports that he was suffering stomach pains.

Israel says Mr Arafat can go anywhere for treatment, but has not promised to let him back to Ramallah if he leaves.

A top official told Reuters that if he leaves the West Bank, the question of whether he could return was "a separate issue after he recuperates".

Yasser Arafat

Israel's policy has been that Mr Arafat is free to leave the compound where he is surrounded by Israeli troops, but might not be allowed to return.

Tunisian and Palestinian doctors were examining Mr Arafat overnight.

Medical teams from Jordan and Egypt were said to be on their way.

Mr Arafat's long-time personal doctor, Jordanian neurologist Ashraf Kurdi, said he had been summoned urgently.

"I am taking a team to assess his condition and do whatever is possible that can be done. They refused to tell me what his condition was."

One cabinet minister, who asked not be identified, described Mr Arafat as "very, very sick".

There were several reports that he had lost consciousness for a short while - but these were quickly denied by his staff.

Handover rumours

A crowd gathered outside his compound, including dozens of journalists, and a series of top Palestinian officials arrived.

There were reports that Mr Arafat had appointed a three-man committee of Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, former premier Mahmoud Abbas and Parliament Speaker Salim al-Zaanoun, to take over while he recovered.

But these were denied by a senior Arafat aide.

Doctors examined the Palestinian leader earlier this week after he complained of stomach pains, but tests reportedly found no signs of major illness.

Yasser Arafat's wife Suha, in 1998
Suha Arafat is expected at her husband's bedside
He is said to have been suffering from a bout of flu as well as a gallstone, which is thought to be easily treatable.

Despite being sidelined by Israel and the United States and the focus for widespread Palestinian anger at the corruption of the authority he leads, Mr Arafat is the most popular Palestinian leader and the symbol of their national struggle.

He is president of the Palestinian Authority, and chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which means that he also represents Palestinians beyond the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

There is no clear successor to Mr Arafat. His power is very much personal and other Palestinian leaders have tended to be in his shadow.

Under the Palestinian Authority's constitution, the speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Rawhi Fattuh, would succeed. But this constitution has yet to be fully ratified.

Mr Arafat has, in effect, been confined to his West Bank compound by the Israeli army since 2001.

Israel accuses him of fomenting violence in the Palestinian intifada, an allegation Mr Arafat denies.


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Frantic activity at Mr Arafat's Ramallah compound



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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES:
Xinhua News Agency Arafat to be flown to Paris for treatment - 7 hrs ago
Jordan Times Arafat heading to Paris - 10 hrs ago
Herald Tribune Weak Arafat Heads to Paris for Treatment - 10 hrs ago
ABCNEWS.com Arafat to Be Flown for Treatment in France - 13 hrs ago
The EconomistAdieu, Arafat? - 15 hrs ago
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