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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 November, 2004, 00:57 GMT
'Plan agreed' to keep Gaza calm
Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei
Qurei is stressing the need for national unity
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei has had talks with faction leaders in Gaza, as uncertainty mounts over who will succeed Yasser Arafat, if he dies.

After meeting officials from groups including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Mr Qurei said commanders had agreed on a plan to ensure security and order.

Meanwhile, an aide to Mr Arafat said on Saturday the ailing leader was not in a coma but remained in intensive care.

"He's in a stable condition. He's sleeping now," said Nabil Abu Rdainah.

"We hope that in the coming few days we will be able to know exactly what he is suffering from," he told reporters outside the hospital in Paris' Clamart suburb.

The 75-year-old slipped into a coma earlier in the week after being transferred from Ramallah in the West Bank to Paris the previous Friday.

Leila Shahid, Palestinian envoy to France, said on Friday he was "at a critical point between life and death."

The website of Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot said earlier on Saturday he had opened his eyes and communicated with his doctors, who were "encouraged".

Medical sources inside the Percy military hospital had suggested the Palestinian leader was only breathing with the help of a life support system.

There have been rumours of arguments among his closest family and aides as to when or whether to switch it off.

Fears of unrest

Palestinian officials have dismissed fears of chaos if Mr Arafat dies.

Saturday's meeting was the first face-to-face encounter between the militant groups, Mr Qurei and the Palestinian security forces.

The BBC's Gaza correspondent, Alan Johnston, says Mr Qurei's priority is to maintain calm and unity during what is a difficult and uncertain time for the Palestinian people.

Supporters hold a vigil outside the French hospital

Hamas and Islamic Jihad are pressing for a more broad-based national leadership in which they would have a say, our correspondent says.

A Hamas spokesman said after the meeting that Mr Qurei had accepted the idea in principle and that there would be more talks on how to implement this.

But speaking to reporters, Mr Qurei himself was more vague on the issue, our correspondent says.

He said that national unity in all its forms was being discussed.

"Any domestic problem must be solved by national dialogue. That is the only way," he added.

Succession issue

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said that the current talks were part of a process that he hoped would lead to a government of national unity being formed.

There have been clashes between Palestinian factions in Gaza in recent months.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Isn't there anyone amongst the Palestinian people who can lead but Arafat?
Majeed Hameed, Baghdad, Iraq

Prime Minister Qurei has been assigned some of Mr Arafat's powers, making him the effective head of the Palestinian Authority.

Mahmoud Abbas, the former Palestinian prime minister, in currently in charge of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Fatah - the biggest faction in the PLO and Mr Arafat's political organisation.

However, there is no clear line of succession to Mr Arafat, although the parliamentary speaker Rauhi Fattouh would take over temporarily.




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