A team of doctors has been sent to the home in Ramallah of the Palestinian President, Yasser Arafat, after a reported deterioration in his health.

Israeli Public Radio said Arafat, 75, had lost consciousness for several hours. This has been denied by Palestinian officials.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Defence Ministry has cleared a Jordanian medical team to travel to the West Bank town this evening to attend to Mr Arafat.

Sharon rejects referendum demand

The Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, is reported to have rejected a demand by four members of his cabinet to hold a national referendum on the planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

The demand was made after a vote in the Israeli parliament last night in favour of the so-called disengagement plan. 

Last night a source close to Mr Sharon said if there was no other option the prime minister would prefer to hold early elections.

Reacting to the Knesset vote, Palestinian spokesman Saeb Erekat said Israel should now begin negotiations with the Palestinian Authority about the withdrawal.