Israel ‘only suspect’ in Yasser Arafat death, says Palestinians
RAMALLAH // Israel is the only suspect in the 2004 death of Yasser Arafat, the chief Palestinian investigator in the case alleged on Friday, a day after Swiss scientists said the Palestinian leader was probably poisoned by radioactive polonium.
The investigator, Tawfik Tirawi, said the inquiry would continue, but did not say what more the Palestinians could do to try to solve the mystery.
He did not present evidence of Israeli involvement, arguing only that Israel had the means and motive to do so. Israel has repeatedly denied it was behind Arafat’s death, and did so again on Friday, in light of the new allegations.
Arafat’s widow, Suha, has called on the Palestinians to seek an international investigation or legal action, but Mr Tirawi said such a decision is up to the Palestinian leadership. Arafat’s successor, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, has so far not commented on the substance of the Swiss team’s findings.
Arafat’s grave was opened earlier this year, enabling Swiss, Russian and French scientists to take samples of remains and burial soil for separate investigations.
At Friday’s news conference, Palestinian investigators summarised the findings of the Russian experts, whom Abbas had asked for a separate probe.
Dr Abdullah Bashir, the medical expert on the Palestinian team, said the Russian scientists did not find sufficient evidence to determine that “polonium-210 caused the radiation that led to the death”. He did not elaborate.
However, both teams determined that Arafat did not die of disease or old age, “but rather, by poisonous material”, Mr Bashir said, adding that “this supports our theory”.
The Russians were also looking at the possibility of other poisons, Mr Bashir said.
Mr Tirawi, meanwhile, was evasive when asked repeatedly whether he believed Arafat was killed by polonium.
“It is not important that I say here that he was killed by polonium,” he said. “But I say, with all the details available about Yasser Arafat’s death, that he was killed, and that Israel killed him.”
At another point, Mr Tirawi described Israel as the “first, fundamental and only suspect in the assassination of Yasser Arafat”.
Israel has denied any role in Arafat’s death, saying it had politically isolated him at the time and had no reason to assassinate him.
“Let me state this as simply as I can: Israel did not kill Arafat,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.
“The Palestinians should stop this nonsense and stop raising these baseless accusations without any shadow of proof,” Palmor added.
Arafat died on Nov. 11, 2004 at a French military hospital, at the age of 75, a month after falling ill at his West Bank compound. At the time, French doctors said he died of a stroke, but records were inconclusive about what caused that condition.
After his death, Palestinians launched their own investigation, questioning dozens of people in Arafat’s headquarters, including staff and bodyguards, but no suspects emerged.
Security around Arafat was easily breached toward the end of his life, a time when he was holed up in his Israeli-besieged compound. Aides have described him as impulsive, unable to resist tasting gifts of chocolate or trying out medicines brought by visitors from abroad.
* Associated Press
Updated: November 8, 2013 04:00 AM