Cleric prays at Arafat’s side as Palestinians make funeral, burial plans
CLAMART, France – A top Islamic cleric read passages from the Quran at Yasser Arafat’s hospital bedside Wednesday, with the comatose Palestinian leader in what an aide called the “final phase” of his life.
The Palestinian foreign minister, Nabil Shaath, said the 75-year-old Arafat is suffering from kidney and liver failure. Arafat’s brain is working only partially because of bleeding, and all his organs except for heart and lungs “are not functioning well,” Shaath said in Ramallah, West Bank.
French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said Wednesday night that Arafat was in his “final hours,” telling France-2 television: “I hope that we can respect the final hours of a man who is approaching death.”
As Arafat’s condition deteriorated, aides made plans to fly his body to Cairo for a funeral, then to his Ramallah headquarters. Palestinians also selected his immediate successor, saying the parliament speaker Rauhi Fattouh will become temporary president of the Palestinian Authority at Arafat’s death.
The Muslim cleric, Taisser Bayod Tamimi, rushed to Paris to be with the Palestinian leader, who is in critical condition at the Percy Military Training Hospital, connected to a respirator and a feeding tube.
“I prayed to God for his recovery,” said Tamimi, who said he was with Arafat for more than an hour, reciting from the Muslim holy book. Tamimi said his close friend was very sick, “but he is still alive.”
Tamimi said life support machines would not be turned off “as long as there are signs of life in the body of the president.”
“It is prohibited in Islam,” he said.
The Palestinian envoy to France, Leila Shahid, told France-Info that Arafat was “in a deep coma” Wednesday, but added there was a “complication in the state of all of his vital organs.”
At a news conference in Ramallah late Tuesday, Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said doctors were trying to relieve bleeding from a severe brain hemorrhage, which can cause brain damage.
Shahid said doctors were fighting to keep Arafat alive. The physicians “are doing everything, in the intensive care unit, to try to give him his chances,” she said.
Palestinian leaders, meanwhile, decided that when the time comes, they would bury Arafat at his sandbagged West Bank headquarters, known as the Muqata, in Ramallah, and turn it into a shrine, defusing a potential conflict with Israel by dropping a demand for a Jerusalem burial. The Israeli Cabinet approved that plan Wednesday.
Israel had been pushing for a Gaza burial, but the Palestinians wanted Jerusalem. Palestinians see Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters – his virtual prison for the last three years – as a symbol of his resistance. Burial there is less politically sensitive for Israel.
In Ramallah, bulldozers pushed aside rubble and hauled away piles of wrecked cars to prepare the compound for Arafat’s burial. Several hundred demonstrators gathered outside the compound Wednesday, waving Palestinian flags and demanding that Arafat be buried at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
Palestinian leaders accepted an offer from Egypt to host the main funeral service in Cairo before Arafat is buried in Ramallah.
The service could be held at Cairo’s international airport, security officials in Egypt said. That would allow Arab leaders to attend without dealing with Israel, which controls access to the Palestinian territories.
While the exact nature of Arafat’s illness remained undisclosed, his condition has steadily worsened since he was flown to a military hospital outside Paris on Oct. 29.
Shaath gave the first detailed description of Arafat’s treatment at a news conference in Paris on Tuesday, after days of confusing and often conflicting reports.
Shaath was part of a delegation led by Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia and Mahmoud Abbas, the No. 2 man behind Arafat in the Palestine Liberation Organization. The group returned to the West Bank early Wednesday after a 24-hour visit.
Shaath’s news conference underlined that the Palestinian leadership was now in control of information about Arafat.
Palestinian officials had been denied access by Arafat’s wife, Suha, who used France’s strict privacy laws that give authority to the family.
AP writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this story.