| A Yasser Arafat shrine near the Percy hospital in Clamart, Paris. (AFP)
Paris, Nov. 5 (Reuters): Yasser Arafat lay in a coma 'between life and death' on Friday as senior Palestinian officials met to consider a future without him.
Palestinian envoy to France Leila Shahid denied the Palestinian president, in a French military hospital on the outskirts of Paris, was brain dead and said he was in a reversible coma. But back home, 14 Palestinian factions met in a show of unity meant to avoid strife in a possible power vacuum.
Arafat has not named a successor and his illness has raised fears of chaos among Palestinians waging a 4-year-old uprising for an independent state next to Israel.
French President Jacques Chirac, who saw the Palestinian president in hospital yesterday, also hinted at a possible future beyond Arafat, who has symbolised the Palestinian struggle for decades.
'I hope that whatever the circumstances, the negotiations, the reforms, peace, establish themselves and become stronger in Palestine,' Chirac said at an EU summit in Brussels.
In the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians were glued to radio and television broadcasts. Security has been boosted at Jewish settlements, Israeli television said.
Some of Arafat's powers, for security and financing, have already been handed over to Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie, a leading moderate.
The 75-year-old Arafat, who has spent the past week at the hospital being treated for an unspecified illness, slipped into a coma early yesterday.
'Today we can say that Yasser Arafat in his state of health and at his age is at a critical juncture between life and death,' Shahid, the permanent Palestinian envoy to Paris, told French radio station RTL.
'I assure you that he is not brain dead,' she said. 'He is in a coma. We are not sure what type. But it is a reversible coma.'
In the Gaza Strip, the 14 Islamic and secular Palestinian groups which have waged the uprising against Israel met, saying they wanted to avoid divisions between them. 'We are people looking for freedom, not fighting tribes,' said senior Islamic Jihad official Mohammed al-Hindi, who emerged from hiding for the meeting. 'We have demanded the formation of a unified national leadership.'
Mushir al-Masri, spokesman for the militant group Hamas, talked of 'the necessity to strengthen national unity and avoid differences and internal struggle'.
CNN quoted US officials as saying Arafat was on a life support machine, but no independent confirmation was available. The EU underlined the need to press on with peace moves yesterday after the bloc's foreign ministers discussed efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.