Arafat Report is Greatly Exaggerated

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JERUSALEM: Reports of Yasser Arafat's imminent demise are almost surely exaggerated. Last Friday Israeli Television quoted "Western intelligence sources" saying that Arafat suffers from a "serious illness," and there were rumors that he fainted Sunday during a closed-door Arab summit meeting in Cairo. But TIME Jersusalem Bureau Chief Lisa Beyer reports that few dispassionate observers believe the Palestinian leader is seriously ill. "His hands shake, and his lips tremble, and there is some reasonable speculation that he might have the very beginnings of Parkinson's disease," says Beyer.

Beyer says some Arafat supporters speculate the TV report was part of an Israeli effort to undermine Arafat. Indeed, Mossad often styles itself as a "Western intelligence source." What the speculation could do is undermine Middle East peace negotiations by opening an inevitably divisive debate among Palestinians over his successor. Arafat, meanwhile, fended off rumors of illness by telling a recent visitor he exercises on a stationary bike every day, and by rolling up his pants to reveal a very muscular leg.