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Frail Arafat lands in Paris

Clamart (France), Oct. 29 (Reuters): Doctors will need 'several days' to diagnose Yasser Arafat's illness but the Palestinian leader was conscious and in good shape when he arrived in France today, a Palestinian diplomat said.

'We are very relieved that he was able to travel, that he arrived in good shape and was conscious. I talked to him,' Leila Shahid, the Palestinian authority's envoy to Paris, said after Arafat flew from the West Bank to France.

'President Arafat has been suffering from an intestinal flu for at least three weeks, but obviously there is more to it than that,' she added.

Doctors say Arafat, 75, may be suffering from leukaemia. He left the West Bank for the first time in more than two-and-a-half years earlier today and flew to France for treatment at a military hospital in Clamart, a southwestern suburb of Paris.

Shahid said the main doctor treating Arafat would need 'several days before he can finish all the examinations and arrive at a real diagnosis.'

On behalf of Arafat, she thanked President Jacques Chirac for allowing him to be treated in France. She said the unhealthy conditions in which he has lived over the past few years had contributed to his condition.

Israeli forces had in effect confined Arafat to his compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah for more than two-and-a-half years.

Israel accuses Arafat of fomenting violence after peace talks collapsed four years ago, an allegation he denies.

Earlier, Arafat flew to France from his besieged West Bank headquarters. The former guerrilla leader, who has for decades symbolised the conflict with Israel for a Palestinian state, waved to crowds from the helicopter as he flew out of his shell-battered compound in Ramallah.

Arafat boarded the Jordanian helicopter wearing an olive military greatcoat and a furry hat. He arrived at Amman airport in Jordan soon afterwards and was carried by doctors on a wheelchair to a waiting French presidential jet.

'God willing, I will come back,' Arafat, who was laid on a stretcher inside the jet, told aides shortly before the plane departed for Paris.

As he was placed aboard the helicopter in his West Bank compound, scores of tearful bystanders, bodyguards and officials chanted, using his nom de guerre: 'We will sacrifice our blood and souls for you, Abu Ammar.'

'The mountain cannot be shaken by the wind,' they called out, repeating one of his favourite sayings.

Arafat agreed to go to France after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, his long-time foe, said he would let him return to the West Bank. Israel had previously said that if Arafat left his compound in Ramallah it would not guarantee his return.

France has traditionally good ties with the Palestinians and wants to raise its profile in West Asian peacemaking. President Jacques Chirac praised Arafat yesterday. Arafat's slide into illness has raised fears of chaos among Palestinians, whose 4-year-old uprising for a state has stalled.

The death of a leader whom Israel and its US ally see as an obstacle to peace could also shuffle the cards in the West Asia conflict.

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