Doctors to probe claims Arafat poisoned

Five years after former PA president's death, Arab doctors to meet in Jordan to investigate suspicions.

arafat 224 88 ap (photo credit: )
arafat 224 88 ap
(photo credit: )
Nearly five years after former Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat died by what French doctors called a massive brain hemorrhage, Arab doctors will meet in Jordan to probe rumors Arafat was poisoned - a suspicion that has lingered years after his death. Arafat's death Nov. 11, 2004 at a military hospital outside of Paris almost immediately spawned speculation he'd been killed by Israel who viewed him as an obstacle to concluding a peace treaty. The 75-year-old Arafat who led the Palestinian movement for almost 40 years fell violently ill in his Ramallah compound in Oct. 2004 and two weeks later was evacuated to a French hospital where he died. At the time, French doctors bound by strict privacy rules were tight-lipped on Arafat's condition, and his widow refused an autopsy. Adding to the speculation, Palestinian leaders have never given a definitive cause of Arafat's death. French doctors who treated Arafat concluded in a report later obtained by the AP that he died of a "massive brain hemorrhage" after suffering intestinal inflammation, jaundice and a blood condition known as disseminated intravascular coagulation, or DIC. What brought on the DIC remains unclear. The condition has numerous causes, ranging from infections to colitis to liver disease. "Consultation with experts and laboratory tests could not help to find a cause that would explain ... the group of syndromes," his French doctors wrote at the time. The report made no mention of poisoning or another popular conspiracy theory, AIDS. Israel strongly denied accusations it played a role in Arafat's death. French doctors declined to comment on the speculation. There has been no prior formal probe into Arafat's death that followed a quick deterioration of the PA leader's health. Jordanian heart surgeon Abdullah al-Bashir said the meeting Thursday involving seven to eight doctors - many who treated Arafat when he fell ill in Oct. 2004 - will try to determine whether Arafat was poisoned. The longtime Palestinian leader battled Israel for years before signing peace treaties with the Jewish state in the 1990s. But Israel blamed him for the failure of further peace talks, and he spent the last two years of his life under siege in his West Bank compound, after Israel accused him of being behind a wave of suicide bombing during the second intifada. Dr. Ashraf al-Kurdi, a Jordanian neurologist who regularly examined Arafat, fueled speculation on the cause of death after the leader died. At the time, Kurdi said lab tests revealed Arafat had a low count of blood platelets - components that help clotting. He insisted doctors had excluded other reasons for the low blood platelets such as infection or cancer and that poison could explain the deficiency. Although "not definitive, I believe the highest reason for Arafat's mysterious death is poisoning," Kurdi said in 2004. Adding to the speculation, Arafat's nephew, Nasser al-Qidwa, who received a copy of the French medical report on the late leader's death, said in 2004 that the lack of clear reason for his uncle's death raised suspicions Arafat died of "unnatural" causes. Israel has been implicated before in trying to poison Palestinian officials. In 1997, Israel tried to poison Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Jordan. But the agents were caught, and King Hussein of Jordan forced Israel to provide the antidote in exchange for their release. Bashir said the decision to undertake the inquiry was taken last week at a meeting in Cairo to launch the Yasser Arafat Foundation.