arafat's wife hits out at palestinian leaders

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    Yasser Arafat's wife accused Palestinian leaders hoping to travel to France to visit her critically ill husband of plotting to "bury him alive", an apparent reference to taking him off life-support.

    Israeli media reported the death of the 75-year-old president would be announced after Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) secretary general Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie and Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath arrived in Paris.

    "I appeal to you to be aware of the scope of the conspiracy," a screaming Suha Arafat said on the Arabic Al Jazeera satellite television station, monitored in the West Bank. "They are trying to bury Abu Ammar (Arafat) alive."

    Palestinian officials have accused Mrs Arafat, who prior to her husband being flown to a Paris military hospital on October 29 had not seen him in three years, of limiting access to and information about the veteran leader.

    Mr Arafat, symbol for decades of the Palestinian struggle against Israel for a state, is suffering from liver failure and his health is not improving, one official said.

    An Israeli newspaper's website said the "working assumption" among Israeli security officials preparing for Mr Arafat's death was that any life support equipment would be shut down on Tuesday.

    "Suha does not want the Palestinian leaders to come to visit Arafat," one Palestinian official said before her Al Jazeera interview was broadcast. "Talks are going on and it's not clear when the leaders will come to Paris."

    Chaos fears

    Mr Arafat's close circle has been concerned that fears about his health might increase chaos back home.

    Others fear a power struggle among Palestinians locked in a four-year-old uprising against Israel.

    French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier described Mr Arafat's condition as "very complex, very serious and stable at the time we are speaking".

    Mr Abbas and Mr Qurie, overseeing the Palestinian Authority in Mr Arafat's absence, wanted to go to Paris on Monday to learn the facts about his condition, a Palestinian official said.

    Israeli commentators called the visit a symbolic show of steady leadership by two members of Mr Arafat's "old guard" and a necessary precursor to any announcement of his death.

    Looking ahead to life without Mr Arafat, his subordinates in the West Bank decided to carry out a plan to restore law and order to the Palestinian territories.

    It was the first major decision they had announced since Mr Arafat left.

    Officials in Ramallah say the plan, drafted in March, was concerned more with ending local lawlessness than reigning in militants waging the four-year-old uprising, is a long-standing Israeli and international demand.

    Calling for more security forces to be deployed, the plan also bans militants from carrying arms, except when confronting Israel, and from intervening in local disturbances.

    Israel says Palestinian failures to curb anti-Israeli violence was one of the main reasons for its decision to carry out a unilateral withdrawal of settlers and soldiers from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank.

    The evacuation, scheduled for 2005, is seen by Palestinians as a ruse aimed at cementing Israel's hold on larger settlement blocs in the West Bank.

    Addressing the delicate issue of where Mr Arafat should be buried if he dies, Israel says it has completed preparations for his eventual burial in the Gaza Strip.

    Mr Arafat wants to be buried in Jerusalem's Old City, which is holy both to Muslims and Jews, but Israel refuses to let Mr Arafat lie in annexed land it calls part of its indivisible capital.

    - Reuters

    Dave R.
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