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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Arafat Clings to Life, French Doctors Say

PARIS -- A gravely ill Yasser Arafat was clinging to life Thursday, French doctors said, refuting reports that Arafat had died.

The Palestinian leader was in a coma after being rushed to the intensive care unit of a military hospital outside Paris after deteriorating overnight, Palestinian officials said, denying he had died.

"I am standing next to the president's bed -- he is in grave condition," Arafat's chief of staff, Ramzi Khoury, said in Paris.

At a news conference at the military hospital where Arafat was hospitalized, a spokesman said Arafat was alive.

"Mr. Arafat is not dead," French physician Christian Estripeau said.

The statement came amid a blizzard of contradictory reports about Arafat's status, with some media reports saying the Palestinian leader was dead, other saying he was brain-dead, and some Palestinian officials insisting he was gravely ill but alive.

Earlier, Israeli television's Channel Two cited Israeli security officials as saying they had been told by a reliable French source that Arafat had died.

In Brussels, Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker also said Arafat had died, but his spokesman Lucien Michels later retracted the statement, calling it "a misunderstanding."

Arafat's personal physician, Ashraf Kurdi, a Jordanian, told the Al-Jazeera television network in an interview from Amman, Jordan, that he had talked to people who were with Arafat at about 8 p.m. Moscow time Thursday.

Kurdi said Arafat had a problem but "his condition is stable now." He would not confirm some reports that Arafat had had a brain scan.

Earlier Thursday, French President Jacques Chirac visited Arafat in the hospital.

Chirac arrived at the Percy Military Training Hospital in Clamart, outside Paris, in an official motorcade and talked with Palestinian officials and doctors. The president's office said he left about 30 minutes later.

Chirac "saw Yasser Arafat and his wife, to whom he expressed his best wishes," the president's office said. He also met members of the Palestinian Authority who were present and doctors, "who are doing everything possible for the health of [Arafat]."

The presidential office provided no further information.

Chirac, who has a long-standing relationship with Arafat, has stood by the Palestinian leader despite efforts by Israel and the United States to marginalize his role in the peace process.

The ailing Arafat arrived last Friday on a French offer of medical treatment after passing out briefly at his West Bank headquarters. He was initially described as having a bad flu, with symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea. He was rushed into intensive care Thursday after deteriorating overnight.

"The clinical situation of the first days following admission has become more complex," hospital spokesman Estripeau said. "The state of health of the patient requires appropriate treatment that required his transfer on Wednesday afternoon of Nov. 3 to a unit adapted to his pathology."

"This statement has been drafted out of respect for the discretion demanded by his wife," he said.

A prolonged Arafat incapacitation -- or death -- could have profound impact on the Middle East. There are fears of unrest among Palestinian factions, which Arafat, viewed as a national symbol by even some who opposed him, was largely able to prevent. Furthermore, chaos in the West Bank and Gaza could make any cooperation with Israel even more difficult.

An immediate dilemma would be the burial arrangements in case of death. Arafat has expressed an interest in being buried in Jerusalem -- a move Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said he will not allow. Since Muslim tradition calls for immediate burial, any declaration of death would swiftly create a major diplomatic crisis.