Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Media Glare and Melodrama Mark Arafat's Hospital Stay ; at Yasser Arafat's Paris Hospital, Confusion Reigned as His Wife, Aides, and Others Wrangled over His State of Health

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Media Glare and Melodrama Mark Arafat's Hospital Stay ; at Yasser Arafat's Paris Hospital, Confusion Reigned as His Wife, Aides, and Others Wrangled over His State of Health

Article excerpt

Yasser Arafat approached death as he lived much of his life: cloaked in secrecy and ambiguity, despite the glare of world attention focused on his every move.

Melodrama was Mr. Arafat's style. In his younger days he would slip from village to village in the West Bank dressed as a woman to evade detection as he built up his creation, the Palestine Liberation Movement, from nothing.

Forty years later, trapped by Israeli troops in the ruins of his headquarters in Ramallah for more than three years, he flamboyantly defied Israeli and American efforts to make him irrelevant.

In between, he escaped political or military disaster by a hair's breadth countless times to fight another day.

But the melodrama descended into embarrassment at the military hospital in a Paris suburb where Arafat was, at press time Tuesday, reported to be in a coma. His wife and top political aides quarreled angrily and publicly over the Palestinian leader's unconscious body.

The semblance of dignity he had managed to retain as he was flown in his pajamas and a blue wool hat from Ramallah to Paris was stripped away by the vicious infighting that his plight provoked among those closest to him.

After a week of conflicting reports about the true state of his health had trickled through the hospital's iron gates, the four senior-most figures in the Palestinian Authority after the president himself were left with no alternative but to come to Paris in person to find out for themselves what exactly was going on.

The sight of those four men being driven into the hospital in a fleet of dark- blue government limousines on Tuesday, flanked by motorcycle police outriders, and being driven out again just over two hours later, counted as an event for the hundreds of TV and radio journalists crowded behind a 200-yard-long barrier outside the hospital.

Camped there for a week, they had long ago tired of filming the Palestinian flags draped on the hospital wall, or interviewing some unexpected well-wishers holding a vigil - a group of black-coated Hassidic Jewish rabbis who believe the state of Israel is a sacrilege (since, in their view, the Messiah has not yet arrived), and that Palestinians should take over all its land. …

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