Palestinians to Exhume Yasser Arafat’s Body After Poisoning Claims
PA to investigate whether former leader was murdered; many already blaming Israel
New allegations have surfaced claiming that former Palestinian Authority (PA) President Yasser Arafat was poisoned, prompting the PA to agree on Wednesday to exhume the body of their iconic leader.
A Swiss institute that examined clothing provided by Arafat's widow, Suha, revealed that “surprisingly” high levels of polonium-210 were found, as first reported by Al Jazeera, leading to new allegations that Arafat was poisoned with the radioactive element and murdered in 2004.
The former PA leader’s medical reports are inconsistent with the latest findings, which were revealed after a nine-month investigation on Arafat’s 2004 death.
Israel is already seen to be the prime suspect behind the death of the 75-year-old Arafat, who prominently led the Palestinians in their bid for statehood for many years.
The Hamas movement in Gaza, a strong opponent of Arafat and his Fatah movement for most of his life also called for an investigation into his death, accusing Israel of murdering him, according to The Globe and Mail.
“The beneficiary of this time is the Zionist enemy,” Hamas said in a statement, while calling for a search that would uncover “those who collaborated or facilitated the task of the occupier.”
Arafat was confined by Israel to his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah for nearly the final three years of his life following a Palestinian uprising. He became very ill in October 2004 and doctors from Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan quickly came to his aid, despite assurances from Arafat’s camp that he was merely suffering from the flu.
He was later flown to a military hospital in France, where he slipped into a coma and died in November 2004. French doctors said they could not pinpoint his cause of death as rumours swirled that he had died of cancer or AIDS.
French officials, citing privacy laws, refused to give details of the nature of his illness at the time while Israeli officials denied involvement in his death.
Silvan Shalom, Israel’s current Vice Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister at the time of Arafat’s death, rejected the notion that Israel had plotted to kill the Palestinian leader in 2004, calling such claims “scandalous and false.”
Israel had previously threatened Arafat, blaming him for the vast amount of Palestinian-caused violence during the early half of the decade.
“I want the world to know the truth about the assassination of Yasser Arafat,” Suha Arafat told Al Jazeera, noting that both Israel and the United States saw him as an obstacle to peace.
“Arafat wanted to arrive with the Palestinian cause to a Palestinian state, and because of this they got rid of him,” she said, without elaborating.
The former Palestinian leader’s wife declared that determining once and for all that there had been a plot to kill her husband “will glorify more his legacy.”
Current PA President Mahmoud Abbas, the successor to Arafat within the Fatah movement, said his administration would approve Suha Arafat’s request to dig up her husband’s remains, buried in a limestone tomb near Ramallah, for an autopsy.
“The Authority, as it always has been, is ready to completely cooperate with and clear the way for an investigation into the true causes leading to the martyrdom of the late president,” said Nabil Abu Rdeineh, spokesman for Abbas.
No date for the exhumation has been set, although Saeb Erekat, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), told Reuters that it could only take place once “religious and family procedures” were complete.
“If you ask me, it’s a matter of a days, not more than a few days,” he said. “Then we will be in contact with the Swiss team or any other team that could come and exhume the body.”
Polonium-210 is reportedly the same substance found to have killed former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. It was reportedly ingested with food, causing the spy a slow, painful death.
Avi Dichter, head of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence service at the time of Arafat’s death, told Army Radio that it was up to the Palestinians to investigate.
“The body is in their hands. It is in Ramallah, and really, all the keys are in their hands,” he said. “Yasser Arafat had many enemies, domestically, abroad. But let them investigate… The Palestinians know well how to investigate what goes on in their house. Let them investigate and find out.”