Yasser Arafat Suffers Three Heart Attacks

Long considered indestructible by his admirers, Yasser Arafat at 74 is finally showing signs of mortality.

From late August, he has suffered three heart attacks, each more serious than the other, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence and Palestinian sources reveal.

Sources close to the Palestinian leader describe the first attack as mild, but the second and third as approaching a severe myocardial infarction. In a show of bravado, he forbade his scared aides to call a doctor or let Palestinian medics treat him. Instead, they gave out the cover story that Arafat had come down with severe flu to account for his feeble appearance.

It was a visibly pale and clammy Arafat who stepped unsteadily out of his Ramallah office several times last week to greet the crowds of Palestinians demonstrating their support in the face of Israel’s open-ended threat to “remove” him. But he took care not to venture farther than a couple of feet from his door or negotiate the small stairway separating him from the crowd in the courtyard. Now and then, he leaned on the left-hand wall of the doorway.

Palestinian and foreign correspondents covering the scene were told he changed position frequently as a precaution against the Israeli snipers perched on surrounding rooftops with orders to assassinate him.

While Palestinian officials were sworn to silence about his condition, word of Arafat’s heart attacks nonetheless reached Jordan’s King Abdullah at Camp David during his visit with President George W. Bush from Thursday, September 18 to Saturday, September 20. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources reveal that Arafat’s health became the main topic of their conversations.

On his return home to Amman last weekend, the monarch telephoned Arafat to commiserate with him and offer to fly his own personal physician Dr. Ashraf al-Kurdi, with a cardiologist – both senior directors at Amman’s central military hospital – to Arafat by helicopter. He vouched for the cardiologist who examined him periodically as well. He also offered to send over advanced diagnostic equipment with the two doctors. At first, Arafat turned the Jordanian king down. But in a second telephone conversation, on Sunday, September 28, he agreed to be examined by the two physicians, persuaded by Abdullah’s argument that rumors of the heart attacks would inevitably leak out at some point and he would do well to arm himself with a specialists’ report to produce as needed. The king also made himself responsible for any treatment Arafat might require.

According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources, Arafat underwent a four-hour examination after which he was diagnosed – the report was rushed immediately to Abdullah – as having suffered a series of heart attacks, each of which was capable of inducing a slight or full-blown stroke. He was advised to retain a fully-staffed medical team on call 24 hours a day in case he was struck down again.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Palestinian sources note that one of the main impediments Ahmed Qureia faces in his bid to put together a broad national government is the spreading word of Arafat’s failing health. Candidates for ministerial posts are unavailable when Qureia (Abu Ala) calls, reluctant to join a team with Arafat’s stamp on it until they see him fully recovered and back in the driving seat. Until then, they are keeping their heads down and quietly jockeying for position in preparation for any drastic changes. The passing or incapacity of Yasser Arafat, Palestinian national symbol for 40 years, would shake his leadership structure to the core.

Less discreetly, the former internal security minister Mohammed Dahlan has openly thrown his hat in the ring, bringing his Gazan supporters out in an open display of defiance to Arafat.

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