Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday ordered the Palestinian commission of inquiry into the death of Yasser Arafat to pursue its investigation.
The purpose is to find whether any of those who were close to Arafat were linked to his death, a PA official said.
“We are studying the report published by the Swiss scientists,” the official said. “The investigation into the case has never stopped.”
The official was referring to a Swiss panel that found that Arafat might have died from polonium poisoning.
Scientists who conducted tests on samples taken from the body found high levels of radioactive polonium-210 in the ribs and pelvis, as well as in soil that absorbed his bodily fluids.
The findings were made public by Al Jazeera on Wednesday, on the eve of the ninth anniversary of the Palestinian icon’s death.
The 108-page report, prepared by the University of Legal Medicine in Lausanne, says there was at least 18 times the normal level of polonium in Arafat’s remains.
In the wake of the report, PLO and Fatah officials called for an international investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death. While some of these officials pointed a finger at Israel, Arafat’s widow, Suha, told Reuters she was sure that “it’s someone in his close circle.”
She quoted an unnamed expert as saying that the poison had been put in Arafat’s tea, coffee or water.
“President Abbas has instructed relevant parties to pursue the investigation to uncover the circumstances surrounding the martyrdom of leader Abu Ammar,” said Nabil Abu Rudaineh, Abbas’s spokesman, using Arafat’s nom de guerre.
Abu Rudaineh said the investigation would continue until the entire truth was revealed to the Palestinians and the whole world.
PLO Executive Committee member Wasel Abu Yusef called for an international tribunal similar to that established to look into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Abu Yusef told AFP that Israel was responsible for Arafat’s death.
Tawfik Tirawi, head of the Palestinian commission of inquiry, is scheduled to hold a press conference in Ramallah on Friday to discuss the findings of the Swiss panel.
On Thursday, Tirawi and other members of the commission briefed Fatah leaders on the findings. Following the meeting, the Fatah Central Committee issued a statement in which it said that the case of Arafat’s death would remain open.
“Efforts will continue to reach the truth and all the details,” the statement said.
“Fatah promises the Palestinian people and Arab nation that it will continue to work toward uncovering the culprits, be they individuals or parties, so that they would face justice and punishment.”
Hamas responded to the Swiss report by claiming that Israel had been “directly responsible” for Arafat’s death.
It also called for an immediate investigation and for those involved in the “assassination” to be held accountable.
Hamas urged the PA leadership to halt the peace talks with the “Zionist enemy, which killed Arafat and other Palestinian leaders.”
Water and Energy Minister Silvan Shalom, meanwhile, said that Israel did not poison Arafat.
“What people said about Arafat, that Israel poisoned him, is complete nonsense and a lie,” Shalom said Thursday in Eilat at the Israel Democracy Institute’s Eli Hurvitz Conference on Economy and Society.
Shalom was finance minister in then-prime minister Ariel Sharon’s government when the IDF put the Mukata, or Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah, under siege in 2002.
“When he was sick, we considered exiling him, and then we decided on the blockade,” he added, referring to Arafat.
“We brought tanks to the Mukata and prevented world leaders from visiting him.”
Over a year later Arafat became ill.
“When he was sick and wanted to get treatment in Paris, we had a discussion and thought maybe he was trying to escape, but we decided not to stop him,” Shalom explained, referring to fellow cabinet ministers.
When asked if the government discussed or even contemplated killing Arafat, he said no.
“We didn’t try during my time, unquestionably,” he said.