The move, the first time Arafat has left his Ramallah compound in the West Bank in two and a half years, emphasizes the severity of the 75-year-old leader’s medical condition.
Israeli officials have assured Palestinians that if Arafat recovers, he would be let back into the West Bank, a prominent Israel-Arab lawmaker told the Associated Press. Israel was unwilling to make such a promise in the past.
Doctors from Jordan, Tunisia and Egypt came to Arafat’s side Thursday to assess the president’s condition after he collapsed and briefly lost consciousness Wednesday night.
Arafat’s wife Suha also arrived in the West Bank from Tunis earlier Thursday. She lives with their young daughter in Paris and had not seen her husband since 2001.
A close Arafat associate said the Palestinian leader slept most of Thursday and when he awoke was moved to a wheelchair because he was too weak to stand, according to the AP. He also reportedly has been unable to keep food down.
Palestinian officials had said Arafat was suffering from a severe flu. But later, a senior Palestinian official said Arafat may be suffering from leukemia, a blood cancer that can be fatal.
If Arafat dies or is permanently incapacitated, Palestinian Authority law says the Palestinian Legislative Council’s speaker, Rawhi Fattouh, takes over as interim president, followed by elections within 60 days, according to Bloomberg news.
Arafat has never named a successor and officials worry a chaotic rush to take control of the Palestinian Authority could follow his death.
“He is the glue to the Palestinians. If anything happens to him, the glue is gone,” Palestinian analyst Ali Jarbawi told Reuters late Wednesday.