WASHINGTON (AP) _ Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is near death, an adviser said Tuesday.

``It's only a matter of hours,'' Edward Abington, formerly the U.S. consular in Jerusalem, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from the West Bank.

Abington said Arafat was in a deep coma and is near death. He said his information came from the Palestinian delegation in Paris. Only Ahmed Qureia, the prime minister, was permitted to see him by French doctors at the hospital because of his grave condition, Abington said.

The State Department had no immediate information that Arafat had died. A senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was no confirmation that Arafat had passed away, but that Arafat is clearly in grave condition.

Over the past several days, there have been frequently conflicting reports about the state of Arafat's health. Arafat's wife, Suha, has barred even Arafat's closest aides from seeing him.

On Monday, the French medical team treating Arafat publicly acknowledged that he was in a coma.