JERUSALEM -- Fearing for the health and safety of her child, Yasser Arafat's wife, Suha, has made a decision that is scandalizing Palestinian society: She will give birth to the couple's first-born in Paris rather than in Gaza, where her husband is trying to build a Palestinian state.
"Our child was conceived in Gaza, but the sanitary conditions there are deplorable," Mrs. Arafat told Le Parisien this week. "I was afraid to give birth there, not for me, but for the baby. It is the normal reaction of a mother."
She granted the interview as her recently published autobiography, "A Child of Palestine," began appearing in Paris bookstores. The book was co-written with a Jewish French journalist, Jerrard Sabbag.
A spokeswoman for Mrs. Arafat, in a telephone interview from Paris yesterday, confirmed the interview's accuracy. Mrs. Arafat, in mourning for her father who died in Paris this week, was unavailable for comment.
Her decision is likely to elevate what has always been a controversial marriage to the status of a political embarrassment for Mr. Arafat, a man who has symbolized the Palestinian national movement for more than three decades.
"I will not deny that if the baby was born in Palestine, it would be better, politically speaking," said Aysem Zein, an activist in Fatah, the Palestine Liberation Organization's largest faction. "The child of Arafat being born on liberated Palestine land, not in exile," would have been a powerful symbol, said Mr. Zein, who lives in Ramallah, Mrs. Arafat's hometown.
"However, Suha is the mother and the decision is hers," he said. "One cannot blame her for the decision because health conditions are not very satisfactory in Gaza hospitals, and this is the first child of Palestine. Everything must go well" with the birth.
Ironically, the PLO-run Voice of Palestine radio reported yesterday that Mr. Arafat will open a new "modernized and developed" maternity ward and neonatal intensive care unit at Shifa Hospital in Gaza in the next two days.
Marwan Kanafani, Mr. Arafat's spokesman, confirmed that the child -- due in early August -- will be born in Paris.
Mr. Arafat secretly married Mrs. Arafat, a Christian from a wealthy West Bank family, in 1990. Mr. Arafat then was 60 and she was 29.
The marriage caused an uproar among Mr. Arafat's lieutenants. Mrs. Arafat's youth, religion and lack of an activist record were all held against her.