Arab League orders investigation of Arafat’s death as rumours fly
For previous news and comment: What or who killed Arafat?
July 17, 2012
BETHLEHEM — The Arab League announced Tuesday that it will form an international committee to investigate the death of late president Yasser Arafat, official news agency Wafa reported.
The Arab League appointed Muhammad Sbeih, deputy secretary-general for Palestinian affairs, and the head of the League’s legal department as members of the committee, which will be headed by deputy League secretary-general Ahmad Bin Hali.
The controversy surrounding Arafat’s death was reignited by an Al Jazeera expose last week in which the Swiss Radiophysics Institute said it found “surprisingly” high levels of polonium-210 on Arafat’s clothing – the same substance used to kill former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.
Allegations of foul play – and of Palestinian involvement in it – have long marked factional fighting among Palestinians.
On Sunday, Palestinian intelligence officer Fahmi Shabana accused Palestinian figures of killing late president Yasser Arafat.
Shabana said that two Palestinian figures were involved in Arafat’s death, a security figure from the Gaza Strip and a political figure who helped cover up the crime.
The Palestinian leadership has information on the death of Yasser Arafat which it will never make public, Shabana said, adding that Al-Jazeera’s recent report aimed to end President Abbas’ political career.
The Palestine Liberation Organization was created by the Arab League, composed of 22 Arab states, at its first summit held in Cairo in 1964.
Several professors of medicine have expressed wonder at the total lack of any investigation into a possible reason for the Palestinian leader’s death: AIDS.
Amos Harel, Ha’aretz
July 09, 2012
A week after the Al-Jazeera’s sensational scoop on Yasser Arafat’s death, it seems as if the network’s investigation leaves more questions than answers. While Al-Jazeera succeeded in returning the late terrorist to the headlines, and with it, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its new conspiracy theory – that Arafat was poisoned in 2004 with radioactive polonium (with heavy hints that Israel was responsible) – is very unconvincing.
Traces of the material were ostensibly found on the chairman’s clothing and hat by a Swiss lab. But the investigative reporters don’t say where those clothes had been held for the past seven-and-half years.
The logical conclusion is that they were held by Arafat’s wife, Suha. Obtaining small amounts of polonium on the black market is not mission impossible, and Suha has all the reason in the world to revive the poisoning claim, especially now.
It’s no secret that the merry widow is in trouble. France has been asking her for explanations about money that has disappeared, while in Tunisia, which hosted her for years, she’s now a persona non grata, ever since that country got rid of her friend, the wife of deposed president Zine bin Ali, who has also been linked to corruption and the disappearance of large sums of money.
Meanwhile, Ramallah isn’t interested in having her back either, after her scathing criticism of Arafat’s successors on the eve of his death, when she took him to a Paris hospital where he died two weeks later. Publicizing a new reason for Arafat’s death, let alone the opening of a new official inquiry, may help Suha restore her status somewhat.
And there’s another issue: Several professors of medicine, both Israeli and foreign, who examined the medical report on Arafat’s death prepared by the French hospital (and which Avi Issacharoff and I revealed in 2005), expressed wonder at the total lack of any investigation into a possible reason for the chairman’s death: AIDS.
Arafat was not a homosexual, despite efforts by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other to portray him as such over the years. The claim that Arafat had AIDS was also heard for many years, but Palestinian society still considers death from AIDS a stain that allegedly proves a person’s sexual tendencies, though of course there are many ways to become infected with AIDS other than by sexual contact.
Therefore, the family has a supreme interest in erasing any memory of that explanation, which should have at least been checked, given the nature of his illness. The lack of any mention of AIDS testing in the rare copy of the medical file that we obtained at the time seems to point to a deliberate omission.
On the other hand, a retroactive determination that Arafat died as a shahid (martyr) would bolster his historical image and give a boost to the family’s position, while also offering an immediate opportunity to blame Israel for being responsible for his murder. Just recall how Israel’s failed effort to poison senior Hamas official Khaled Meshal in Amman in 1997 enhanced his position.
But the major flaw in this explanation is that it is hard to see what interest Israel would have had in assassinating Arafat in late 2004. It’s true that Sharon despised Arafat and wanted him dead. But then U.S. President George W. Bush had made sure to extract a personal promise from Sharon that he would not harm Arafat.
But more than that: Arafat, on the eve of his death, was practically an Israeli asset. Both Israel and the United States had a wealth of proof of his involvement in terror, from the seizing of the Karine A arms ship through his links to the terrorists of Fatah’s armed wing. Arafat was under siege and isolated, as Sharon had already scored significant successes in stopping the Palestinian suicide bombing campaign.
Thus Sharon, paradoxically, actually had an interest in keeping Arafat in power as long as possible, rather than having to deal with a successor like Mahmoud Abbas, who was not directly involved in terror and was thus accepted by the international community with open arms.
Palestinian leader OK’s digging up Arafat’s body
By Karin Laub, Associated Press/Salon
July 9, 2012
RAMALLAH, West Bank— Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has given final approval to dig up Yasser Arafat’s remains and is also pressing for an international investigation of his predecessor’s mysterious 2004 death, a top aide said Monday.
The decision came days after a Swiss lab detected elevated traces of a lethal radioactive agent on clothing said to be Arafat’s.
Testing Arafat’s bones could offer the last chance to get to the bottom of Palestinian claims that their leader was poisoned, though some experts cautioned it may already be too late for conclusive answers.
Several Palestinian officials have charged that Israel poisoned Arafat. The French doctors who treated Arafat in his final days did not present a clear cause of death, while Israel emphatically denied it killed the Palestinian leader.
Arafat, who died at age 75, is buried in a mausoleum in the walled government compound in the West Bank where he spent the last three years of his life under Israeli siege.
Scenes of heavy machinery tearing into the wreath-covered grave of the revered leader could prove offensive to devout Muslims. Also, the grave has become a must-see site for Palestinian and foreign visitors to Ramallah.
Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said Monday that the need to know overrides cultural sensibilities. “We are seeking the truth, and every single Palestinian is seeking the truth, and we cannot reach the truth without it (exhuming the remains),” Erekat told The Associated Press.
“In my heart, I have always said that President Arafat was assassinated, was killed,” he said. “Do I have evidence? I don’t … This is why we want the Swiss experts to come and exhume the body. This is why we should do everything humanly possible to get to the truth.”
Denying a role, Israeli officials have said that with Arafat locked in at his headquarters, there was no need to kill him. They argued that an assassination would only have destabilized what already was a difficult period of heavy fighting. They called the latest round of charges “ludicrous.”
Access to Arafat was relatively easy: holding court at his compound, the Palestinian leader received many gifts from visitors, including candy he often tasted spontaneously.
Arafat died Nov. 11, 2004 in a French military hospital, a month after falling violently ill at his Ramallah compound. French doctors said he died of a massive stroke and had suffered from a blood condition known as disseminated intravascular coagulation, or DIC. But the records were inconclusive about what brought about the DIC, which has numerous possible causes, including infections and liver disease.
Last week, the Arab satellite TV channel Al-Jazeera broadcast results of what it said was a nine-month investigation of Arafat’s death. Arafat’s widow, Suha, gave the station her husband’s medical file and a duffel bag crammed with what she identified as his belongings, including a fur hat and a woolen cap with some of his hair, a toothbrush, and clothing with his urine and blood stains.
Switzerland’s Institute of Radiation Physics detected elevated traces of polonium-210 — a rare and highly lethal substance — on Arafat’s belongings, but said the findings were inconclusive and that Arafat’s bones would have to be tested to get a clearer answer.
Mrs. Arafat, who has lived abroad since before her husband’s death and remains a contentious figure in the Palestinian territories, demanded that Arafat’s body be exhumed. Palestinian officials have said privately they were blindsided by the Al-Jazeera report and the widow’s request for an autopsy. After Arafat’s death, she had blocked requests for a post-mortem examination.
Abbas decided late Sunday to give final approval to reopening the grave, Erekat said.
By mid-week, Palestinian officials hope to send invitations to experts at the Swiss institute to come to Ramallah and help exhume the body. The go-between is one of Arafat’s physicians, Dr. Abdullah Bashir, a Palestinian based in Jordan.
Bashir said main decisions, such as deciding on the size of the needed bone sample, would be left up to the Swiss experts.
Darcy Christen, a spokeswoman for the institute, said there has been no official word yet from the Palestinians.
Beyond the autopsy, Abbas seeks an international investigation, and raised the idea last week in a meeting with French President Francois Hollande, who listened but made no promises, Erekat said.
Nasser al-Kidwa, a nephew of Arafat and the spokesman for the family, was cool to the idea of exhuming the remains, but signaled Monday he would not stand in the way.
“Our belief was always that it was an unusual death, and most likely he (Arafat) was poisoned. Now all indications say he was poisoned,” he told the AP. Al-Kidwa, a former Palestinian envoy to the United Nations, heads the Yasser Arafat Foundation and is the custodian of Arafat’s legacy.
The top Muslim cleric in the Palestinian territories has already given his blessing to exhuming the remains.
However, testing the bones may not provide clear answer. Polonium-210 decays rapidly, and experts have been divided over whether Arafat’s remains would provide a solid clue eight years after his death.
Less than 1 gram (0.035 ounces) of the silver powder is enough to kill. Polonium’s most famous victim was KGB agent-turned-Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, who died in London in 2006 after the substance was slipped into his tea.
Someone poisoned by polonium would experience multiple organ failure as alpha radiation particles bombard the liver, kidneys and bone marrow from within. Litvinenko lost his hair and turned blue, symptoms not displayed by Arafat.
After Arafat’s death, the Palestinian Authority established a committee to investigate, but made no progress. Palestinian officials said they relied at the time on the results of tests conducted by the French doctors, who found no signs of common poisons. Al-Jazeera said the French military hospital destroyed Arafat’s blood and urine samples four years after his death.