Yasser Arafat, for decades the leader of the fight for Palestinian independence from Israel, has died at a military hospital in Paris, according to news reports.

The 75-year-old Arafat, founder of the Palestine Liberation Organization, had been comatose for days. News reports said he died at 4:30 a.m. Thursday Paris time.

An enigmatic figure identifiable by his checkered headdress, the diminutive Arafat was viewed as a statesman and terrorist.

Arafat often was at odds with other Arab states and was blamed for the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Germany. Arafat also supported Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

In 1993, Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin reached an accord brokered by President Clinton that recognized Israel's right to exist and gave the Palestinians limited self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Arafat, Rabin and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.

Rabin was assassinated late in 1995 in Israel by a Jewish extremist and replaced by Benjamin Netanyahu, who took a hard line against Arafat.

In 2000, Arafat and Israeli Premier Ehud Barak held peace talks at Camp David that ended without an agreement. A new

intifada

, or uprising, began in September of that year in which 4,000 people have been killed, most of them Palestinian.

Arafat spent his last few years literally under house arrest by Israeli forces in the battle-scarred city of Ramallah in the West Bank.