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Palestinian leaders to visit Arafat -

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Palestinian leaders to visit Arafat

Reporter: Jane Hutcheon

TONY JONES: An intense dispute has emerged over who should be allowed to see Yasser Arafat at his
sick bed.

A delegation of Palestinian officials had been planning to visit their ailing president until his
wife, Suha Arafat, accused them of seeking to bury her husband alive.

First they cancelled their departure, then they changed their minds and announced they'd be heading
for Paris tomorrow.

Middle East correspondent Jane Hutcheon reports.

JANE HUTCHEON: In the West Bank, Palestinians hold vigils for their leader lying in a critical
condition in a Paris hospital.

Returning from France, aspiring leader and self-appointed Arafat aide Mohammed Dahlan didn't
elaborate on the president's health.

"I hope his health will be better than before," he says.

"But there is a need for the political leadership to be next to him at this time."

The political leadership, a noticeable empty chair at its head, decided to travel to Paris to
assess the president's condition for itself.

NABIL SHAATH, PALESTINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: We already know that he is fully alive that all his
vital organs are working properly, that what he's going through is reversible, but we do not
underestimate the risks that threaten his life.

JANE HUTCHEON: But as several officials made plans to travel to Paris tonight, a surprising
outburst from Mrs Arafat.

"I appeal to you to be aware of the scope of the conspiracy," she says.

"They are trying to bury Yasser Arafat alive. He is well and will return to his homeland."

Her outburst attracted this response from the office of the Palestinian President.

"We were surprised," he says.

"By the unilateral decision by Mrs Suha Arafat and the manner she is dealing with the entire
Palestinian leadership.

President Yasser Arafat doesn't belong to a small family, but the entire Palestinian people and the
whole Arab world and all freedom seeking people".

Suha Arafat herself is a controversial figure.

The Christian, and some say unlikely wife, of the Palestinian leader lives in style in France where
she's under investigation for multi-million dollar transfers to her bank accounts from offshore.

Her outburst fuels further confusion about the 75-year-old leader's condition.

There's been a flurry of activity to shore up the work of the Palestinian Authority and keep
militant factions, such as Hamas, on side during this period of uncertainty.

There's no unrest, the only demonstrations have been in support of Yasser Arafat and the French
Government.

But privately many Palestinians are asking exactly what ails their leader and their leadership?

And they wonder why they've been kept in the dark for so long.

Jane Hutcheon, Lateline.