Ailing Arafat Rushed to Paris Hospital

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The 75-year-old Arafat arrived on a French military jet at an airfield southwest of Paris and was taken by helicopter to the nearby Hopital d'Instruction des Armees de Percy, landing on a rooftop helipad.

Paramedics carried Arafat on a stretcher from the roof into the hospital, with his wife, Suha, at his side.

Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Jamil Tarifi, who was on the plane with Arafat, said his condition was "good, thank God."

"He was normal," Tarifi said.

The Percy hospital has a major trauma center and also specializes in the treatment of blood disorders, said Christian Estripeau, head of communications for military health services.

Arafat has been sick for the past two weeks and blood tests have revealed he has a low platelet count — a possible symptom of leukemia or other cancers or a number of other maladies. Doctors said they need to run more tests to find the cause.

Arafat's personal physician, Dr. Ashraf Kurdi, ruled out leukemia on Thursday. However, an Arafat confidant, Dr. Ahmed Tibi, said Friday that "at this point, no possibility has been eliminated." Tibi, an Israeli Arab legislator, said Israeli intelligence officials have speculated that Arafat might be suffering from leukemia and he indicated that Arafat might have some symptoms of the disease.

Platelets are blood components that aid in clotting. A low count can be caused by many medical problems, including bleeding ulcers, colitis, blood cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma, liver disease, lupus and chickenpox. The platelet count also can be low because of treatment with blood thinners.

Hours earlier, Arafat had a somber departure from his sandbagged Ramallah headquarters, seen off by a few hundred loyalists gathered on a rain-slicked tarmac. At daybreak, Arafat, wearing a gray fur hat and an olive-colored jacket, was helped into a Jordanian military helicopter outside his headquarters.

He looked pale and jaundiced, but tried to smile as loyalists whistled and chanted, "With our spirit and our blood, we will redeem you, Abu Ammar," using his nom de guerre.

"I will be back soon, God willing. I'll see you soon," Arafat told aides during a stopover at a Jordanian military base, according to Ata Kheiry, deputy chief of the Palestinian mission in Jordan. From the base he boarded the military plane dispatched by President Jacques Chirac to bring him to Paris.

Outside the Percy hospital — set on a hilltop with sweeping views of Paris — a small group of Arafat supporters waited for him, holding bouquets of flowers and waving Palestinian flags.

"I am waiting for Yasser Arafat to tell him that we are with him," said Fatima Mera, a 35-year-old French woman of Moroccan origin. "We hope he will leave here and continue the struggle for the Palestinian people."

Chirac, in Rome, said "it goes without saying that France, a land of welcome, would not question the right of the president of the Palestinian Authority to come to our country for treatment."

Chirac said he had no information about Arafat's condition.

Tarifi said about 18 people accompanied Arafat on the flight, including his wife, chief of staff Ramzi Khoury, top aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh and more than a dozen bodyguards and security officers. Arafat's daughter, Zahwa, was in Tunis with Suha's mother.

Arafat, once known for his love of travel, had not left the West Bank since a tour of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan in November 2001.

Israel has long refused to guarantee that if Arafat leaves his Ramallah base he will be allowed to return — a refusal that kept the Palestinian leader pinned down in his compound. But Israel, concerned it would be blamed if his health condition worsened, lifted the ban on Thursday and promised to allow Arafat to come back from treatment

Palestinians were beginning to consider how their world would look without Arafat, the only leader they have known for nearly four decades.

The last photos taken of Arafat in the West Bank underscored his transformation from leader to patient. They showed him in a wheelchair, holding his doctors' hands and wearing a blue jogging suit and a stocking cap, instead of his trademark military fatigues and checkered headscarf.

He had spent most of Thursday sleeping, was too weak to stand and unable to hold down food after his condition worsened the night before, when he collapsed and briefly lost consciousness.

Palestinians watched their leader's departure with mixed feelings.

Many have been frustrated by his corruption-tainted rule and failure to resolve four years of fighting with Israel. However, he has been a unifying force and many feared his departure could unleash a possibly bloody power struggle.

"He is the safety valve for everything here," said Imad Samara, 38, a teacher in Gaza City. "He is the father of all the Palestinians."

Senior Palestinian officials were to hold a first round of meetings to discuss the situation Saturday. Arafat has persistently refused to appoint a successor and did not name a stand-in during his absence.

"We admit that things will not be easy," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a former Cabinet minister and Arafat confidant, "but we will try our best for full coordination ... and we will consult with president Arafat on the important issues."

The militant group Hamas, a longtime rival of Arafat, said Friday it was setting aside its differences, wishing the Palestinian leader a "quick recovery" and calling for a united Palestinian leadership to work toward general elections.

The Israeli and U.S. governments have refused to deal with Arafat, saying he was fomenting terror and is not a partner for peace. The European Union has said Arafat cannot be ignored, since he is the Palestinians' elected leader.

"Whatever will be, we are seeing Arafat being sidelined," said Yossi Beilin, a dovish Israeli politician and former peace negotiator.

The Bush administration said it hopes he gets proper medical care.

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