Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is still alive and his life support machine has not been switched off, according to senior Palestinian figures. Contrary to expectation, the Palestinian Authority did not announce his death on Wednesday morning and said it would wait for confirmation from the hospital near Paris where Arafat is in a deep coma. The Palestinian envoy to France and a top Muslim cleric said his artificial respirator had not been disconnected.
Several hundred people gathered outside the presidential headquarters in Ramallah in a show of solidarity. They denounced Israel for rejecting pleas to allow Arafat to be buried in East Jerusalem. The president’s funeral is set to take place in the Egyptian capital Cairo, perhaps later this week. Top Arab and international dignitaries are expected to attend. His coffin is then due to be transported to Ramallah for burial. Israel agreed to let him be buried in the West Bank despite concerns over security. Rawhi Fattouh, the president of the Palestinian parliament, will take over as interim leader. New elections must be organised within 60 days of Arafat’s death. Some Israeli and Western politicians have expressed hope that the result of that poll could offer fresh hope for the deadlocked peace process.