It's time I look back from outer space
Join Date: Feb. 12th, 2008
Location: and face the mirror I still have to face
Palestinians may Exhume Arafat After Report of Poisoning
Palestinians may exhume arafat after report of poisoning
Palestinians May Exhume Arafat After Report of Poisoning
By ISABEL KERSHNER
JERUSALEM — A potentially explosive re-examination of the circumstances behind the death of Yasir Arafat, the symbol of the Palestinian national struggle, has galvanized Palestinian suspicions that he was poisoned and led the Palestinian Authority to agree in principle on Wednesday to an exhumation of his remains, possibly within days.
Mr. Arafat’s widow, Suha, called for the exhumation a day earlier in an interview with Al Jazeera, the Arabic television channel based in Qatar, after it reported that Mr. Arafat might have been poisoned with polonium, a rare radioactive isotope associated with K.G.B.-style assassination intrigues.
Saeb Erekat, a close aide of the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, said by telephone that once the religious authorities and Mr. Arafat’s relatives had given the go-ahead, an exhumation could take place “in the coming days.”
Then, Mr. Erekat said, the Palestinians would seek an international inquiry into Mr. Arafat’s death similar to the United Nations-backed tribunal that investigated the assassination of Rafik Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister.
Mr. Erekat said a thorough investigation of all aspects of Mr. Arafat’s death in November 2004 was called for because “it was not so long ago.”
“Our memories are still alive,” he said.
The death of Mr. Arafat, at the age of 75, remains enveloped in mystery and contention. The report in Al Jazeera caused an uproar in the Palestinian territories, rekindling unresolved questions about the death and theories that he had been killed by agents of Israel or by Palestinian rivals.
Mr. Arafat became ill in October 2004 and was flown by helicopter out of the Muqata, his headquarters in Ramallah, in the West Bank, where he had been confined under an Israeli Army siege and virtual house arrest for more than two years. He was transferred to a French military hospital, where he died about two weeks later of unannounced causes.
Though the hospital records were never made public, fueling speculation and rumors about the cause of death, they were obtained by The New York Times in 2005. The records showed that he had died of a stroke that resulted from a bleeding disorder caused by an underlying infection. The infection was never identified. The hospital found no traces of poisons.
Two Palestinian investigative committees have so far failed to produce any conclusive findings. At a fractious convention of Mr. Abbas’s Fatah Party in 2009, the first such gathering in 20 years, one point of consensus was the notion that Israel was responsible for the death of Mr. Arafat, the founder of Fatah. Delegates blamed Israel for having kept the leader under siege, and Fatah officials said they would continue to investigate the circumstances of his death, and the suspicions that Israel had poisoned him.
Israel has always denied any involvement in Mr. Arafat’s death.
“Ultimately all the documents surrounding Arafat’s death are in Palestinian hands,” a senior Israeli official said Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the issue. “Instead of spreading conspiracy theories, the Palestinians could just make the documents public.”
Al Jazeera English wanted to investigate the cause of Mr. Arafat’s death about 18 months ago, but the project was delayed because of the turmoil that broke out in the Arab world, according to Walid al-Omary, Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Ramallah. But over the past nine months the news channel carried out what it called an in-depth investigation with the help of Mr. Arafat’s widow.
Mrs. Arafat gave the channel a copy of Mr. Arafat’s medical records as well as personal effects, including clothing he had worn close to his death, his toothbrush and his trademark black-and-white checkered kaffiyeh. Al Jazeera said it took the items to the best laboratories in Europe for forensic testing.
At the University of Lausanne’s Institute of Radiation Physics in Switzerland, doctors found what they said were unusually high levels of polonium 210 in certain items.
Polonium became widely known after Alexander V. Litvinenko, a former K.G.B. agent who became a critic of the Russian government, died in London in 2006 after he drank tea contaminated with the substance.
“I can confirm to you that we measured an unexplained, elevated amount of unsupported polonium 210 in the belongings of Mr. Arafat that contained stains of biological fluids,” Dr. Francois Bochud, the director of the institute, told Al Jazeera.
Scientists at the institute said that further testing of Mr. Arafat’s remains would be necessary before determining whether he had been poisoned.
Mr. Arafat’s body was returned to Ramallah and was buried in a chaotic funeral in the courtyard of the Muqata. His remains now lie in a stately mausoleum, guarded by troops and visited by dignitaries and members of the public who go there to lay wreaths.
The legacy left by Mr. Arafat is as confounding as he was in life. Revered by many as the revolutionary founding father of Palestinian nationalism, he was also reviled, particularly by many Israelis, who considered him a terrorist. He was among three recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his role in accepting the Oslo accords, a blueprint for peace with Israel, but nearly 20 years later his promises of a Palestinian state remain unfulfilled. Corruption was also rampant under his leadership.
“We have moved from at least having the impression under Yasir Arafat that our national aspirations could be fulfilled to survival mode,” said Zakaria al-Qaq, a political scientist at Al Quds University in East Jerusalem. Nowadays, Mr. Qaq said, Palestinians are concerned about whether or not their salaries will come in, referring to a worsening financial crisis that has caused the Palestinian Authority to delay payment of June salaries to its employees.
Given the sensitive nature of this, I have some concerns on what they may find, but more importantly, how the Palestinians will react to what they may find.