RAMALLAH ø Israeli officials have confirmed reports that Arafat died. They said Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon obtained the information from French intelligence.
Israeli and Palestinian officials said the 75-year-old Arafat died on
Thursday in a
military hospital in Paris.
The officials said Arafat was deemed clinically dead, but
remained attached to life support systems on the insistence of his wife,
Suha, Middle East Newsline reported.
"He is dead and there is no longer any doubt of this," a PA official
said. "The announcement will come when Suha agrees to it, but I don't
imagine the French allowing a dead Arafat to stay in their hospital for more
than another few days."
The official said that over the last week Suha has pressed Arafat aides
for information on her husband's bank accounts. Arafat was said to have up
to $3 billion in assets, much of it believed deposited in Swiss banks, according to a report in the current edition of Geostrategy-Direct.com.
The PA has not confirmed Arafat's death. Officials said Suha was the
only one authorized to issue statements regarding her husband's condition.
On Friday, after repeated assertions that Arafat's condition was improving,
PLO envoy Leila Shahid said the chairman was in a coma.
The PA has already begun preparing the Palestinians in the West Bank and
Gaza Strip for the announcement of Arafat's death. On late Thursday, amid
the PA denials of reports that Arafat has died, PA television broadcast a
program on his life.
"What's being done now is no different than when King Hussein died," the
official, referring to the death of the Jordanian monarch in 1999, said.
"Hussein was essentially dead when he was flown from the U.S. hospital back
to Amman. But Jordan waited three days until all of the preparations for the
succession of power had been completed."
Israel's military began to implement its plan drafted to respond to
Arafat's death. Termed "New Leaf," the plan by the military's Central
Command envisions power struggles within the ruling Fatah movement and
between Palestinian insurgency groups as well as an effort to increase civil
unrest and armed attacks against Israel.
Arafat was expected to be succeeded by a two-man Palestinian leadership.
Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei would operate the PA's daily affairs
while PLO Executive Council chairman Mahmoud Abbas was seen as becoming the
head of the PLO and deal with Palestinian foreign affairs.
The PA placed its security forces on alert. On Friday, Qurei was
scheduled to travel to the Gaza Strip to meet security chiefs and other
officials in an effort to coordinate policy.
At the same time, Palestinian insurgency groups were expected to meet to
discuss a post-Arafat regime. So far, the Iranian-sponsored Islamic Jihad
has warned that it would intensify the war against Israel.
PA officials said Arafat did not leave a will that stipulated where he
wished to be buried. Israel has ruled out the prospect that Arafat would be
buried in Jerusalem.