Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei, acting Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) chief Mahmud Abbas, foreign minister Nabil Shaath, and parliament speaker Rawhi Fattuh landed at an airport outside Paris on a private plane.

The aircraft touched down at Le Bourget airport north of Paris at 9:45 pm (2045 GMT) after a flight from the Jordanian capital Amman.

The four had earlier decided to shelve the visit after Mr Arafat’s wife, Suha Arafat, accused them of trying to “bury him alive”, but later changed their minds.

“We hope to be able to see him (Arafat) and to get real information,” Shaath told Agence France Press before the group headed to Amman where they took a flight to Paris.

Mr Arafat is in “stable condition” but doctors have restricted visits to his bedside in a French military hospital, the French armed forces said the French health department.

Mr Arafat is still receiving treatment in an intensive care unit at the hospital in Clamart outside Paris and “his condition is stable”, according to the chief surgeon of the military health department, Christain Estripeau.

“President Arafat’s medical condition forces us to restrict visits to him,” said Estripeau, who read a statement to reporters in front of the hospital, the first such statement since Friday.

“The present statement has been made with respect for the discretion demanded by Mrs Arafat, his wife,” he said.

Mr Arafat, 75, has been hospitalised near Paris since October 29.

The arrival means that the five most senior members of the leadership are out of the country at arguably the most delicate moment in Palestinian politics for half a century.

Palestinian officials struggled to contain their anger over Suha’s comments, made in an emotional interview on the Al-Jazeera television network.

“A handful of (people) seeking to inherit power are coming to Paris to try and bury Abu Ammar (Arafat) alive. I ask you to look at the extent of the plot,” she said.

The head of Mr Arafat’s office, Tayeb Abdelrahim, said the Palestinian leadership was “astonished” by her comments.

“Arafat is not owned by a small family. He is for all the Palestinian people and we pray to God that he comes back safe to achieve his dream of a Palestinian state,” he added in a press conference outside Mr Arafat’s Muqataa leadershp compound.

“Nobody can prevent the leadership from inquiring about the health of the president.”

Mr Fattuh also demanded that Suha “apologise to the Palestinian people” while the head of the PLO’s politburo Faruq Qaddumi denounced her “illogical declarations”.

In Mr Arafat’s absence, Mr Abbas has been at the helm of the PLO while Qorei has been in overall charge of the Palestinian Authority.

It was not immediately clear however who would be officially in charge while the four-man delegation was in France, where the Palestinians will meet with President Jacques Chirac.