RAMALLAH, West Bank – The Palestinian official in charge of investigating the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004 renewed his accusation Friday that Israel had killed the Palestinian leader, even as he and a colleague acknowledged that recent inquiries had not found sufficient evidence to prove that Arafat was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210.
Abdullah Bashir, the medical expert on the Palestinian committee investigating the death, told reporters that Russian investigators “agreed that Mr. Arafat’s death wasn’t natural” but had not concluded that it was caused by polonium. The report on that investigation, which has not been made public, “pointed out new information that requires more research,” Bashir said.
Tawfik Tirawi, the head of the committee, said at a news conference here that Israel was the “first, fundamental and only suspect” in what he described as an assassination, although he did not provide any evidence to back that up.
Tirawi, who was the Palestinian intelligence chief at the time of Arafat’s death at age 75, acknowledged, however, that three separate investigations by Russian, Swiss and French teams had yet to confirm how the Palestinian Authority president died. “The big question is still unanswered,” he said.
The Palestinian statements came two days after Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based television network that has advanced the theory that Arafat was poisoned, published a new report by the Swiss team, stating that its findings “moderately support the proposition” that Arafat died as a consequence of polonium poisoning. Some experts have since raised questions about whether traces of polonium would survive this long on clothing and other items. A separate French investigation has not yet been published.
Israel repeated its long-standing insistence that it had nothing to do with Arafat’s demise. “Let me state this as simply as I can: Israel did not kill Arafat,” Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, told the Associated Press. “The Palestinians should stop this nonsense and stop raising these baseless accusations without any shadow of proof.”
Bashir noted at the news conference that Arafat, a former guerrilla fighter and longtime chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, did not smoke or drink alcohol, and did not have diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure. He said the committee was politically, criminally and “scientifically mandated to find out the reasons for Arafat’s death.”
Tirawi told reporters that the Palestinian investigation, which began three years ago, would “continue until the whole truth is fully revealed.”
“Based on the Russian and Swiss findings, we can say that Abu Ammar did not die because he was an old man; he didn’t die because he was ill; his death was not natural,” Tirawi said, using Arafat’s nickname. “These two reports are not the end. We will see you again, to reveal to you the whole truth.”