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Last Updated: Friday, 29 October, 2004, 14:02 GMT 15:02 UK
Nations voice concern for Arafat
Yasser Arafat and aides
Reports of Yasser Arafat's ill health provoked wide concern
Leaders around the world expressed concern for Yasser Arafat's health as he left the Palestinian territories for Paris for urgent medical tests.

The readiness of France to treat the Palestinian leader underlined the support Paris has shown in the past.

The White House has said it hopes Mr Arafat, 75, will get the care he needs.

But the Israeli government, which gave permission for Mr Arafat to leave his Ramallah compound, seems split over whether he should be allowed to return.

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

Raanan Gissin, spokesman for Ariel Sharon, insisted on Friday that Israel "had authorised Yasser Arafat to leave for medical care and to return", the AFP news agency said.

Mr Gissin said Mr Sharon had agreed to allow Mr Arafat's trip at the request of Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qurei and the Egyptian government.

But Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and senior defence officials are against allowing Mr Arafat to return, AFP reported.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak thanked Mr Sharon on Thursday "for the humane gesture" of allowing Mr Arafat to travel to Paris, the Israeli presidency said in a statement.

French President Jacques Chirac said his decision to welcome Mr Arafat was down to France's tradition as a "land of refuge".

He made clear his support for Mr Arafat in a letter written "to express my deepest sympathy and warmest wishes for your recovery".

'Not political'

He went on: "France, as you know, backs the aspiration you embody for the creation of a viable, prosperous and peaceful Palestinian state alongside a state of Israel assured of its security."

French officials have regularly visited Arafat in his Ramallah compound. In June, Foreign Minister Michel Barnier cancelled a trip to Israel after it refused permission to see him.

Washington has said it hopes Mr Arafat will receive the necessary medical attention.

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US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: "This is not a political matter for us. This is a matter of seeing that an ill person gets the medical care they need for health."

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Britain's consular general in Jerusalem was "staying in very close touch" with members of the Palestinian Authority.

He said: "We are very concerned. We have sent our very good wishes to President Arafat for a speedy recovery."

He added it was not appropriate to speculate about the implications of Mr Arafat's ill health for the Middle East peace process.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he hoped Mr Arafat would "retain his position as leader of the nation", saying Russia held his authority in great respect.

During a short stop in Amman, Mr Arafat was greeted by Jordan's Foreign Minister Hani al-Mulqi, the Palestinian, French and Jordanian ambassadors and the UN chief delegate in Jordan.

Before leaving the Jordanian airfield, Mr Arafat told aides: "I will be back soon, God willing. I'll see you soon."




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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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