Palestinians cautiously advance Arafat probe

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 10, 2012 9:45 AM
Palestinians cautiously advance Arafat probe

By Noah Browning

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - A week after fresh allegations that their late leader Yasser Arafat was poisoned, Palestinian officials are still discussing behind closed doors when and how to exhume his body for examination.

Revelations about the former president's unexplained death in 2004 could stir more turmoil in the Palestinians' already deeply divided ranks.

"The team must follow procedures, and in order to be proper must be far from the media. We don't want to perform all our actions on TV screens," Tawfiq Tirawi, head of a long-standing official committee looking into Arafat's death, told Voice of Palestine radio.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has resolved to contact the Swiss Radiophysics Institute, which found traces of a deadly polonium isotope on clothes of Arafat's provided by his widow for an Al Jazeera television documentary.

Jordanian doctor Abdullah al-Bashir, delegated by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to invite the Swiss scientists to Ramallah to take samples from Arafat's remains for testing, said no date had been set for the Swiss team's visit.

The Swiss institute said on Tuesday it had not yet had any formal communications with the Palestinian Authority.

Abbas had expressed his government's willingness last week to exhume the body from its limestone sepulcher in the heart of Ramallah, the Palestinians' de facto capital in the West Bank.

SUSPICIONS

Tirawi, intelligence chief under Arafat, echoed widely-held Palestinian suspicions that Israel was responsible for poisoning him, most likely with the help of Palestinian collaborators.

"The means which the Israelis used in its crime must have been Palestinian means, if the poison was slipped into his food or medicine," said Tirawi, who is also a member of the central committee of Abbas's Fatah party.

"It's our mission to find these means, without divulging details, as we are still under their occupation."

Confined by Israel to his headquarters in Ramallah for three years after a Palestinian uprising erupted, an ailing Arafat collapsed in October 2004.

Foreign doctors flocked to his bedside amid public assurances from aides to the 75-year-old over the next two weeks that he was suffering from no more than flu.

But looking weak and thin, he was airlifted to a military hospital in France, where he slipped into a coma and died on November 11, 2004.

At the time, rumors flew that Arafat had died from stomach cancer, poisoning or AIDS. French doctors said they could not establish the cause of death and French officials, citing privacy laws, refused to give details of his illness.

Last weekend, Abbas met French President Francois Hollande and asked him to help form an international investigative committee through the U.N. Security Council, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Al Jazeera.

Palestinian are also making overtures to the Arab League for an international probe into Arafat's death, Erekat said.

(Reporting by Ali Sawafta and Noah Browning; editing by Andrew Roche)