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They want to bury my husband alive: Suha Arafat

By Vaiju Naravane

Suha Arafat, wife of the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, has accused her ailing husband's top lieutenants of seeking to grab power from him. In this March 1998 picture, Ms. Arafat is seated beneath a portrait of her husband at her Gaza home during an interview. — AP

PARIS, NOV. 8. The Palestinian crisis deepened today with Suha Tawil, the wife of the ailing PLO Chairman, Yasser Arafat, accusing the senior PLO leadership of wishing to "inherit power and bury Arafat alive."

With her declarations, a new and distasteful element, that of open Palestinian infighting, has entered the imbroglio surrounding Mr. Arafat who continues to hover between life and death in a hospital here.

The PLO leadership, comprising the Prime Minister, Ahmed Qorei, the former Prime Minister, Mehmood Abbas, and the Foreign Minister, Nabil Saath, reacted angrily to her comments, initially deciding to cancel their trip to Paris. Later, they went ahead with their travel plans to discover "the truth" behind Mr. Arafat's ill-health.


Ms. Suha Tawil, Mr. Arafat's estranged wife and younger to him by 34 years, has also for the first time referred to the possibility that her husband may have been poisoned.

"Handfuls seeking to inherit power are coming to Paris to bury Abu Ammar [Mr. Arafat] alive. I ask you to look at the extent of the plot," she said.

The most disturbing comments, however, came from the leaders of extremist groups, the Islamic Jihad and Hamas. "These declarations reflect attempts to polarise power within the Palestinian Authority," the Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, said stressing the need for a collective leadership that would include extremist religious groups such as his own.

The Islamic Jihad's spokesman, Khaled Al Batash, called Ms. Arafat's comments "out of place. This does great harm to the Palestinian people."

Under French law, Ms. Arafat, as the PLO leader's closest kith and kin, is the sole person allowed to decide what should be made public about her husband's state of health.

French doctors have been muzzled, announcing from one day to the next that Mr. Arafat's condition remains unchanged.

No precisions have been given as to whether or not Mr. Arafat is in fact in an irreversible coma, whether brain death has in fact occurred and whether he would die if life support machines were to be disconnected.

Over two weeks after he was first hospitalised in France, the world is none the wiser about exactly what the PLO leader is suffering from and the Palestinian leadership, including senior leaders of Islamic movements such as Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, are getting restive. Top Palestinian leaders have demanded that she apologise. The head of the Palestinian legislative Council Rawhi Fattuh said: "She must apologise to the Palestinian people. They have a right to know about Yasser Arafat's health, all the more because the information is contradictory."

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