JERUSALEM— Amid scientific revelations this week that their late leader, Yasser Arafat, may have died by poisoning, Palestinian officials said Friday they suspect Israel was behind the plot. But Israeli officials deny the charge.
The head of the Palestinian committee investigating the death of Yasser Arafat told reporters (Friday) that the long-time Palestinian leader’s death nine years ago was not from natural causes.
Former Palestinian Intelligence Chief Tawfiq Tirawi was reacting to a Swiss study of Arafat’s remains that found he might have been poisoned.
He says the core issue is to find out who stands behind the death of Arafat and who has the technical and scientific means to carry out the plot. And, he says, the Palestinian committee considers Israel to be the first and only suspect in the assassination.
Israeli officials vehemently denied the charge. Foreign Affairs Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor said the Palestinians have no proof.
"I want to say this as clearly as I can: Israel did not kill [Yasser] Arafat, period. It's as simple as that. There is nothing more to it. We have nothing to do with it," he said.
Arafat died in 2004 at the age of 75 after being flown in poor health to Europe from the West Bank. He had been under siege in Ramallah by Israeli forces because of terrorist attacks in what is known as the Second Intifada.
Many Palestinians believe he was poisoned by a dose of the radioactive element polonium. Polonium is rare and hard to detect. It was allegedly used in the murder of a former Russian secret agent in Britain seven years ago.
Arafat’s widow, last year, agreed to allow her husband’s remains to be exhumed as part of an investigation into his death. Forensic teams from Russia, France and Switzerland conducted separate studies of the samples.
Results from the French study have not been released. Arafat’s personal physician, Abdallah Bashir, said the Russian study did not find evidence of the radioactive substance.
He says the Russian team concluded that the comprehensive report did not give sufficient evidence to support the finding that Polonium-210 caused acute radiation syndrome leading to death.
Polonium decays rapidly and many specialists doubt that enough traces of it could be found in Arafat’s grave so long after his death.
But the Swiss investigators said the traces they found were 18 times higher than normal. As a result they said there was what they called moderate support for the theory that he was poisoned.