First Published: 2012-11-09

 

Arafat death probe opens old wounds

 

Palestinians' most explosive secret may be lurking under stone slab covering Arafat's tomb Eight years after his death.

 

Middle East Online

By Selim Saheb-Ettaba - RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories

Will the truth come out?

The Palestinians' most explosive secret may be lurking under the stone slab covering Yasser Arafat's tomb where experts hope to explain his mysterious death eight years ago.

When the iconic Palestinian leader died at the age of 75 in a French military hospital near Paris on November 11, 2004, French doctors were unable to say what had killed him.

Many Palestinians still hold on to the belief that he was poisoned by Israel although there has been no proof of such allegations until now.

But following the broadcast of an Al-Jazeera documentary in July, in which Swiss experts reported finding abnormal quantities of the radioactive substance polonium on his personal effects, the controversy has been resurrected.

On November 26, French magistrates pursuing a murder inquiry are to arrive in the West Bank town of Ramallah along with a Swiss delegation who will work in parallel to take samples from his body for testing.

But the two investigations have rekindled an old dispute among his family members and those close to him.

The French murder inquiry was opened in late August at the request of Arafat's widow Suha, who, at the time of his death, had refused to give her permission for an autopsy.

News of the findings after Suha had handed over Arafat's effects for testing came as a surprise to the Palestinian Authority.

It quickly agreed to let the investigators come and take samples "on the condition that the family ... accepts," in a reference to his widow, his daughter Zahwa and his nephew Nasser al-Qidwa.

Tawfiq Tirawi, who is in charge of the ongoing Palestinian probe into Arafat's death, has said the tomb can be opened only once in presence of both sets of experts.

Qidwa, who has repeatedly accused Israel of poisoning his uncle, hailed the Al-Jazeera documentary for providing the long-overdue evidence and has said there is no need for further proof by opening the grave.

He has called for the immediate formation of an international commission of inquiry to try those responsible.

'Burying Arafat alive'

This week, Qidwa, who heads the Yasser Arafat Foundation, repeated his "opposition in principle" to an exhumation, "primarily because samples collected after eight years may not be clinically exploitable."

"Every Palestinian is convinced that Arafat was murdered," he said, "but even opening his tomb won't convince the sceptics of the truth."

In a survey carried out shortly after his death in November 2004, more than 80 percent of Palestinians said they believed there was truth in the rumour that he was poisoned by Israel.

And 93 percent said they wanted his medical files to be made public -- which eventually happened in July this year but shed no more light on the cause of death.

Unlike Qidwa, Suha Arafat has not specifically pointed the finger at Israel, saying last month that "the truth about the death of the martyr Arafat is of interest to every Palestinian patriot."

On July 31, Arafat's widow and her daughter launched a civil suit for murder in France, with her lawyers saying the action was "against (a defendant referred to as) X meaning that Suha and Zahwa Arafat are not accusing anyone -- not a specific state, a group or an individual."

As Arafat lay dying in a military hospital near Paris, Suha -- who was tightly guarding access to her husband -- raised speculation that other players could be involved by accusing his top lieutenants of trying to bury him alive.

"A handful of (people) seeking to inherit power are coming to Paris to try and bury Abu Ammar alive," she said, using her husbands nom-de-guerre.

The remarks were directed at Mahmud Abbas, the current president who was acting PLO chief at the time, Ahmed Qorei, who was prime minister, and Nabil Shaath, who was then foreign minister.

In light of the renewed speculation that Arafat was poisoned, Israeli officials have denied any involvement in the death and raised the suggestion that Palestinian officials and his wife were keeping crucial details from the people.

But such denials from Israel, which has been involved in killing or trying to kill a number of leading Palestinians, often in extraordinary circumstances, have little chance of changing beliefs which still remain strong on the Palestinian street eight years later.

Only last week Israel for the first time admitted that it assassinated Arafat's deputy, Abu Jihad, in a 1988 raid on the PLO headquarters in Tunis.

 

Egypt renews calls for creation of joint military force at Arab summit

Torturous Iran talks move into top gear in battle of wills

Qaeda seizes 'majority' of Syria northwestern city of Idlib

Saudi ambassador to return to Sweden after diplomatic spat

Oil prices fall after Yemen-inspired gains

Libya forces ‘withdraw’ from frontline bases near oil ports

UN Security Council keeps Libya arms embargo in place

Saudi-led airstrikes target arms depots in Yemen capital

Death toll from hotel attack rises as fighting continues in Somalia

Turkish parliament passes security bill after long debate

Turkey army chief of staff visits historic tomb inside Syria

Saudi-led coalition keeps up raids against Yemen rebels

Assad says open to dialogue with US

US backs Saudi-led intervention in Yemen

Heavy Saudi raids force Sanaa residents to flee

Israeli Arab MP walks for Bedouins

Gulf stocks regain ground after early losses over Yemen

Kerry presses Iran on nuclear deal before deadline

Somali pirates seize Iranian fishing vessel

Borse Dubai sells big stake in London Stock Exchange

Can Arabs form joint military force?

Libya rivals discuss UN-backed peace proposals

French President to join 'anti-terror' march in Tunis

Sisi underscores Egypt’s rights to tap Nile water

US-led coalition aircraft bomb Tikrit

Saudi warplanes strike Yemen rebels in Sanaa

Netanyahu to form Israel new government after shock victory

Turkey military responds to Kurdish attacks in southeast

Leaders see horror of air crash as investigators step up probe

Fistfight in Iraqi Kurdish parliament

Syria rebels seize ancient town of Busra Sham

UN reveals plethora of abuses against activists in Libya

IS attack kills 5 militia fighters in Libya city of Sirte

Yemen President ‘in safety’ as rebel forces advance

US considering launching air strikes on Tikrit

Yemen Huthis seizes key airbase near Aden

'Feminist' policy costing dear to Sweden

Obama says row with Netanyahu ‘substantive’

Tunisia honours victims of deadly attack on national museum

Roadside bomb kills two Egypt soldiers in restive Sinai

‘Islamic State’ woos Syria children with money: More than 400 recruited in 2015 alone

Huthi-led militia push on southern Yemen

US envoy to Libya leaves Twitter after barrage of online abuse

US provides 'eye in the sky' to support Iraq Tikrit operation

Turkey prosecutors launch probe as ruling party rift grows