RAMALLAH – Palestinian leaders over the weekend emphasized the importance of a proposed international investigative committee to determine the cause of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s death in 2004.

The Arab League’s deputy head said on Thursday that Tunisia has asked the Arab foreign ministers to assemble and discuss the alleged poisoning and death of Arafat.

The head of the PLO’s negotiations department, Saeb Erekat, said PA President Mahmoud Abbas asked French President François Hollande to form an international probe committee, and thanked France for looking after Arafat’s health before his death in 2004.

Last Tuesday, the Qatari Al Jazeera TV channel broadcast a report indicating that the late Palestinian leader could have been poisoned with the radioactive substance polonium- 210.

Arafat’s widow, Suha, had provided a Swiss laboratory private items and clothes that supposedly belong to him.

After the laboratory said it found polonium-210 on them, she asked that Arafat’s body be exhumed.

A day after the claims of radioactive contamination, Abbas agreed to exhume Arafat’s body from its Ramallah mausoleum.

Bassam al-Salhli, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, told The Jerusalem Post that Abbas’s statement served as a decision to form a probe into Arafat’s death, as there were previous initiatives by the committee to carry out such an inquiry. “If an agreement is finalized with the Arab League, then either an Arab country or the Arab group in the UN will carry the bid to an international body,” Salhi said.

In turn, PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said the technical details were not yet set, and that the Palestinian leadership was exploring the best way to follow up on that matter.

Ashrawi added that people want to know the truth.

“Arafat is not an ordinary person for the Palestinian people. He is a symbol,” she said.

She told the Post that Palestinians need closure on this case, “not only on how he died but also on who was responsible for his death, and to hold accountable those who are responsible for that.”

The Al Jazeera report brought to the fore the issue of the Palestinian leader’s death after eight years of speculation.

“The main accusation is directed toward Israel,” Salhi said, adding that previous investigations relied on the 500-page report issued by Percy military hospital in Clamart, a suburb of Paris, where Arafat spent his final days.

The report indicated the death was a result of poison but couldn’t link that to any known poison in his body, he claimed.

Erekat said, “I reviewed the report of the French hospital at that time. And it said that [the French] had investigated everything possible. It [polonium] wasn’t on it. And maybe the medical [specialists] and scientists will one day discover why Arafat died.”

Palestinian officials said the investigation and the new autopsy would be carried out in parallel.

In a live interview on Sunday night with Aaron Klein broadcast on New York’s WABC radio, Erekat added, “President Arafat’s body can be exhumed the minute we declare the religious and the family procedures complete, on which we are currently working. [It] could be in the next few days. And secondly, after this, it’s not only about chemicals. It’s also about forming an international investigation, a credible committee that could take the matter from A to Z. That’s very, very essential.”

Palestinians hope that the committee will be similar to the one investigating the death of Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination in Beirut in 2005, the UN’s Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Salhi explained that “there are two aspects for not following up on that file before, the first one is legal and is related to the family (they didn’t request an autopsy before) and the second is technical, where we don’t have expert Palestinian authorities to unveil the reason behind the death.”

Erekat said the cause of Arafat’s death was unknown to the Palestinians. “I think we need to know who gave the orders, who provided the drugs, and who were the elements to carry out the assassination if it’s an assassination,” he told WABC radio.

Salhi said discovery of Israeli involvement in the death would mean a serious problem for the peace process and might kill it.

According to Salhi, an Israeli link to the death of Arafat would mean that Israel was dealing with Palestinians as an occupying power. “This mean that they dealt with him as an enemy and justified killing him... They didn’t respect previous commitments and didn’t think of the future,” he said.

Ashrawi said that Israel had the “motive, chance, will and the intention, implied by their formal statements, to do that.

The assassinations, confiscation of land, resources and historical places are Israeli approaches. People have a feeling and some are convinced that Israel did it, they just need proof.”

Ashrawi considers the probe of great importance, “Because Israel is used to operating without being held accountable for its actions. It’s enough.”

Salhi told the Post that even if collaborators were involved, “they must’ve acted through Israel and it would be that Israel that took a political terrorist decision.”

Salhi excluded the possibility of an explosion in the Palestinian political arena just based on the Arafat case. “In my opinion, all the accumulated tensions from Israeli expansion, settlement building, and other measures by the occupation might be the cause of an internal explosion,” he said.

He predicts that the US will pressure the PA not to follow through with the investigation.

Salhi said that there are plans to target Abbas. “There is a kind of a theater that is being set up, it doesn’t necessarily involve killing him but may aim to push him out of the arena.”

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger