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Aide says Arafat's health improving

Palestinian leader undergoing additional tests in France


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Yasser Arafat is en route Friday to France in a photo released by the Palestinian Authority.
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A spokeswoman says doctors have ruled out leukemia.

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Yasser Arafat

PARIS, France (CNN) -- Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, hospitalized in France for a blood disorder, has improved enough for doctors to conduct additional tests, his spokeswoman said Tuesday.

But doctors at the French military hospital at Clamart did not offer any explanation about what may be causing the 75-year-old Palestinian leader's illness.

Leila Shahid, the Palestine Liberation Organization representative in Paris, read a statement prepared with the collaboration of Arafat's French doctors saying the Palestinian Authority president and his family wanted to put an end to rumors about his health.

She said Arafat is suffering from an abnormal blood count. Initial tests showed an abnormally high white blood cell count and low platelet count, she said, but added the tests had "ruled out the diagnosis of leukemia."

For 48 hours, Arafat has been able to converse with "his doctors, close relatives, colleagues and heads of state," Shahid said.

"Pathology tests have shown an improvement in his white blood cell count," she said, as well as "persistent abnormalities" in his digestion.

"President Arafat's condition has improved sufficiently for him to undergo tests that could not be performed upon admission."

Questioned about Arafat's diagnosis, a French medical officer who stood by as Shahid read the statement said it was not possible to disclose any information about his condition under French law.

Arafat arrived in Paris on Saturday after a team of doctors in the West Bank city of Ramallah said they had not been able to determine the cause of his illness.

On Friday, after a call from Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Israel announced it would allow Arafat to go anywhere his doctors thought necessary and would allow him to return to his Ramallah compound.

Israel had confined Arafat there since 2002, accusing him of provoking suicide bombings and other violent acts in the Palestinian uprising that began in September 2000, charges that Arafat denies.

In the past, Israel has said it could not guarantee Arafat's safe return if he left his compound.

Arafat's wife, Suha, and one other Palestinian official are visiting him at the hospital.

Qorei and former Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas have assumed additional responsibilities during Arafat's absence, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said.

Abbas, secretary-general of the executive committee of the PLO, is acting chairman of the PLO, and Qorei, deputy head of the national security council, is acting head of the security committee, Erakat said.

He said Arafat approved the changes before leaving for France.

"Things will function ... in accordance with the basic law and the internal law of each of these institutions, and hoping that Arafat will recover and resume his duties," Erakat said. "Meanwhile, things will function for the benefit and interests of the Palestinian people."

The PLO executive committee met Saturday, leaving Arafat's seat empty.


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