Palestinians ponder possible end to Arafat era
PARIS, France (CNN) -- Palestinian officials and international officials Saturday privately weighed the prospects of political life after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who remains in poor condition at a French hospital.
Since Arafat's health deteriorated, senior Palestinian officials publicly tried to foster the impression that the longtime Palestinian leader, a symbol of his people's political aspirations, will recover and even return to work.
Sources close to Palestinian and European leaders said Saturday that doctors were keeping Arafat in a coma by doctors in an effort to prevent him from moving, because movement could compromise his inflamed vital organs and might be fatal.
Nabil Abu Rudainah, Arafat's media adviser, said late Saturday Arafat was "under strict medical observance" and he hoped that in the next few days, the exact cause of his illness will become known.
Three U.S. officials and a PLO representative said Friday that Arafat was comatose, and the officials said he was on a life-support system.
"No one thinks he'll survive," a senior State Department official said.
Hospital officials said Friday that the 75-year-old's health had not worsened in the past 24 hours.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei, arriving under heavy guard, met with virtually all of the major factions in Gaza. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups, as well as all major security organizations, had representatives there.
Officials at the meeting said the groups agreed on a security plan for Gaza, where officials fear discord if and when Arafat dies.
The people there drafted a letter calling for all political factions in Gaza to be involved in major decision-making.
The Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee is discussing how the Palestinian Authority should be run day-to-day. PLO General-Secretary Tayeb Abdul Rahin issued a statement saying Arafat is in stable condition and he praised the Palestinian people for staying united.
International representatives are meeting with Palestinian officials. A contingent of Norwegians met with Palestinians, and a U.S. State Department representative, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Elizabeth Dibble, met with Qorei.
The PLO's Rahin congratulated U.S. President George W. Bush on his re-election victory and said he hopes for "serious cooperation with the Bush administration that will lead to an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital."
Bush has said he supports the establishment of a Palestinian state at peace with Israel.
Senior Palestinian officials have not talked publicly about succession and aren't broaching the hot-button issue of where Arafat would be buried -- talk that would be seen as disrepectful to the 75-year-old man, a prominent figure on the Middle East stage for decades.
Two U.S. officials said that since Muslim custom requires burial within 24 hours of death, Arafat's family will not take him off life support or declare him dead until burial arrangements are worked out.
But chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said reports of Arafat being on life support systems were baseless. And he denied that doctors were keeping Arafat alive while officials and family members made burial decisions.
Leila Shahid, the PLO representative in Paris, said Arafat was in a coma but that it was "reversible." During an interview Friday on French Radio, Shahid denied reports that Arafat was brain dead.
French, Israeli, and Egyptian officials were consulting with Arafat's family and aides to discuss potential burial sites, officials from those countries said. Though Arafat's family wants a Jerusalem burial, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has ruled it out.
"Jerusalem is the city where Jewish kings are buried and not Arab terrorists," Israeli Justice Minister Yosef Lapid said Friday.
A senior Israeli official would not confirm or deny reports of negotiations over where Arafat might be buried. "This is a sensitive issue and we will not discuss it until an official statement is released."
The Israeli government received no formal request from Arafat's family involving his burial, the official said.
One possibility that's been discussed is a burial in Egypt. Arafat was born in Egypt, though he once claimed to have been born in Jerusalem. Gaza is also a possibility. Arafat's father and sister are buried near the Khan Younis refugee camp in central Gaza.
CNN's Michael Holmes, Jim Bittermann, Suzanne Malveaux and Guy Raz contributed to this report.