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Israel closes Arab areas; Arafat is ill

By Wire services
Published October 9, 2003

JERUSALEM - Trying to prevent another terror attack during the Jewish holidays, Israel enforced an open-ended lockdown of Palestinian towns Wednesday and ordered two more battalions into the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The closure was extended as questions arose over the health of Yasser Arafat after he appeared in public looking haggard and disoriented. Advisers denied a report he has suffered a mild heart attack, saying Arafat - the leading champion of the Palestinian cause over four decades - is weak from a stomach flu.

In brief appearances this week, Arafat looked drawn and pale and his lower lip trembled considerably. He spoke with great effort and with prompting from his chief adviser, Nabil Abu Rdeneh. At times, he appeared in a daze, staring straight ahead.

On Sept. 29, Arafat's personal physician, Dr. Ashraf al-Kurdi, rushed from Jordan to Arafat's compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah to examine the Palestinian leader. At the time, Arafat had been unable to keep down food for three days, and Palestinian sources said he feared he had been poisoned.

Al-Kurdi said after the checkup that Arafat was in relatively good health. However, Arafat has not improved since that visit, the AP reported, quoting Arafat aides who spoke on condition of anonymity. Arafat continues to pick at his food and requires a lot of rest.

On Wednesday, new Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia presided over the first meeting of his eight-member emergency Cabinet. He said that he would seek Parliament approval today for the ministers.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military announced late Tuesday that it was extending the lockdown of the West Bank and Gaza, banning Palestinians from Israel and cordoning off Palestinian towns.

Despite the measures, violence continued Wednesday. Three Israeli soldiers were wounded, one seriously, in a Palestinian shooting attack on a West Bank road near Nablus.

During the last three years of fighting, Israel has enforced strict travel bans. On Wednesday the army announced that Palestinian traffic would be banned from West Bank roads patrolled by the Israeli military until Sunday. The army said it was an effort to reduce attacks and was directly related to Wednesday night's shooting.

Blanket closures, including travel bans within the Palestinian areas, are usually imposed during Jewish holidays, and restrictions are eased - though not lifted - after the holidays. The most recent one, Yom Kippur, ended Monday, and the next one, the weeklong Sukkot holiday, begins at sundown Friday.

However, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz ordered the strict closure to continue, reportedly at least through Oct. 22, or several days after the end of Sukkot.

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