For the first time in decades, leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organisation have met without Yasser Arafat. With the Palestinian president in a French hospital, it was up to former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas to take over.
For the moment, he is sharing power with current Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie. Arafat’s absence was all too evident, with an empty chair at the head of the table. But the PLO insists he is still in contact with them, is very much in control, and business will continue as usual in his absence. In the Parisian suburb of Clamart, Arafat has been undergoing a barrage of medical tests. He is said to have a blood disorder, although a Palestinian source has said doctors have, for the moment, ruled out leukemia. Brain and body scans already carried out are not reported to have shown up any anomalies. Specialists should give their verdict on his health in a few days. On Friday, Arafat said he would return to the West Bank, but an Israeli security source said it had assessed his condition and described it as “irreversible”.