(AP) RAMALLAH, West Bank – An ailing Yasser Arafat collapsed Wednesday night, was unconscious for about 10 minutes and remained in a serious condition. A team of Jordanian doctors was urgently summoned to treat the ailing Palestinian leader, whose wife headed to her husband’s side from Paris.
An official in Arafat’s office said the Palestinian leader had created a special committee of three senior officials, including Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, to run Palestinian affairs the while 75-year-old Arafat during his continuing illness.
Other Palestinian officials, including his spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh, denied a temporary leadership group was formed.
The Palestinian leader was eating soup during a meeting with Qureia, former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, and another official between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. (2 p.m. or 3 p.m. EDT) when he vomited, a bodyguard said.
Arafat was taken quickly to the clinic inside his Ramallah compound, where he collapsed and was unconscious for about 10 minutes, the guard said.
Palestinian officials soon descended on the sandbagged, partially demolished compound where Arafat has been confined for 2 1/2 years. The officials milled about the courtyard, waiting for news outside Arafat’s three-story headquarters that was bathed in spotlights.
Israeli security officials said Arafat’s wife, Suha, who lives in France with their young daughter, was expected to arrive Thursday, as were the Jordanian doctors who were called to treat Arafat.
Arafat has been known to be ill for two weeks, but reports about his ailment have varied widely.
Palestinian officials said he had the flu. Israeli officials speculated he might have stomach cancer, but two of his doctors said Wednesday a blood test and a biopsy of tissue from his digestive tract showed no evidence of cancer.
On Tuesday, a hospital official said Arafat was suffering from a large gallstone. The gallstone, while extremely painful, is not life-threatening and can be easily treated, the official told AP.
Arafat has shown symptoms of Parkinson’s disease since the late 1990s.
An official in Arafat’s office said the Palestinian leader had deputized Qureia, Abbas and Salim Zaanoun, head of the Palestinian National Council, to run the PLO and the Palestinian Authority during his illness.
But spokesman Abu Rdeneh said: “Nothing like that,” when asked if Arafat had set up a temporary leadership.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan, traveling in Michigan with President Bush, said U.S. officials were monitoring the situation.
As Arafat’s condition worsened Wednesday, a senior Palestinian official told The Associated Press that a decision to move Arafat from his compound to an outside hospital would be made purely on medical grounds, without considering politics. Israel had said Monday it would allow Arafat to leave the compound for the hospital and return afterward, something the Israelis previously had refused to guarantee during Arafat’s confinement.
A senior official in Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (news – web sites)’s office said the Palestinians had asked Israel to allow foreign doctors to come treat Arafat.
“The prime minister immediately instructed the security officials and others involved to facilitate the transfer and any medical equipment and facilities Arafat might need,” the official said, adding that Israel would also allow Arafat to be transferred to any medical facility in the world.
Dr. Ashraf Kurdi, a Jordanian doctor who heads the team arriving Thursday, told AP that he had received an urgent summons but no details.
“I tried to get a medical report from them. I couldn’t get anything,” he said.
Arafat’s health crisis highlights Palestinian unpreparedness for their leader’s death, making a chaotic transition all but inevitable. Arafat refuses to groom a successor; rival security chiefs already have battled each other in the streets.
Qureia and Abbas both have been touted as possible political heirs to Arafat, though the Palestinian leader has bickered with each of them, blocking their attempts to limit his powers.
“It’s only natural to expect that there would be either a power struggle or there would be a loss of cohesion,” Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi said.
Analysts said it could take years for a leader to emerge, hurting prospects for already stagnant attempts at peacemaking between Israel and the Palestinians. Nevertheless, Israel and the United States hold out hope a post-Arafat Middle East would be more conducive to peace because of what they see as Arafat’s blind eye to terror and opposition to reform.
Polls show the second most popular Palestinian after Arafat is Marwan Barghouti, a leader of Fatah’s young guard. But Barghouti is serving five consecutive life terms in an Israeli prison for involvement in terror attacks.
On paper, at least, a path of succession has been charted. The parliament speaker would replace Arafat as Palestinian Authority president for 60 days, until elections are held. However, current speaker Rauhi Fattouh is a bland backbencher uncertain to keep power during a turbulent transition period. Timely elections appear unlikely.
Arafat’s other post, chief of the Palestine Liberation Organization, would be filled, at least temporarily, by Abbas.
During Arafat’s long confinement in the compound, doctors have equipped two rooms with medical equipment, including X-ray, ultrasound machines and emergency resuscitation gear.
In tests this week, Arafat was in his pajamas and wore a blue wool hat, instead of his trademark black-and-white checkered headscarf, an official on the medical team said.
The medical official said Arafat continues to sleep in a small room, which has only one window and is furnished with a bed and a closet, even though a new, sunnier room has been refurbished for him on another floor.
From his small window, Arafat looks out on rubble and heaps of cars flattened in previous Israeli raids.