A candlelit vigil has been held outside the hospital near Paris where Yasser Arafat is said to be hanging “between life and death”.
Wellwishers at the gates of the Percy army medical centre stayed up long into the night, waiting for news. It is thought the Palestinian president is in a deep coma, although one aide said he could recover. The 75-year-old was rushed to hospital in France a week ago with severe stomach pains. The chief doctor says Arafat is now in a stable condition. In the West Bank, the town of Ramallah is already in mourning, with flags flying at half mast. Palestinian officials have refused to discuss funeral plans openly. But the conflict that characterised Arafat’s life continues – it is known he wanted to be buried in Jerusalem, but the Israelis have said that is out of the question. With the issue of who could replace him still up in the air current Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie has assumed some of the president’s powers, notably in security and financing. The moderate meets with Palestinian factional leaders later. On Friday 14 Islamic and secular groups got together in the Gaza Strip to put on a united front. Amid speculation they could begin fighting among themselves they said their objective was “freedom”, not conflict. A senior Islamic Jihad official explained that they would like to see what he described as a “unified national leadership.”