Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat attends Friday prayers in the West Bank city of Ramallah on June 7, 2002
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat attends Friday prayers in the West Bank city of Ramallah on June 7, 2002 © Thomas Coex - AFP/File
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat attends Friday prayers in the West Bank city of Ramallah on June 7, 2002
Last updated: November 8, 2013

Palestinians say Israel only suspect in Arafat death

The Palestinians said Friday that Israel is the only suspect in the "assassination" of Yasser Arafat, a day after Swiss experts said tests suggested their veteran leader was killed by polonium poisoning.

"We say that Israel is the one and only suspect in the case of Yasser Arafat's assassination, and we will continue to carry out a thorough investigation to find out and confirm all the details and all elements of the case," said Tawfiq Tirawi, head of the Palestinian Authority's inquiry into the death.

"This is the crime of the 21st century," Tirawi told a news conference in the West Bank town of Ramallah. "The fundamental (goal) is to find out who is behind the liquidation of Yasser Arafat."

The Palestinian president, aged 75, died in Paris on November 11, 2004 after falling sick a month earlier. Doctors were unable to specify the cause of death and no post-mortem was carried out at the time.

Palestinian society has long given currency to the rumour that Arafat was murdered, with Israel the party most often blamed.

But there has never been any proof.

Tirawi said Palestinian investigators had studied the findings of Swiss scientists released this week which "moderately" supported the notion of poisoning.

In November 2012, Arafat's remains were exhumed and samples taken, partly to investigate whether he had been poisoned with polonium. That suspicion had grown after the assassination in that manner of Russian ex-spy and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.

Speaking to reporters in Lausanne on Thursday, the Swiss team said the test results neither confirmed nor denied polonium was the actual cause of his death, although they provided "moderate" backing for the idea he was poisoned by the rare and highly radioactive element.

Israel once again firmly denied killing Arafat.

"I will state this as simply and clearly as I can: Israel did not kill Arafat. Period. And that's all there is to it," foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP.

"The Palestinians should stop levelling all these groundless accusations at Israel without the slightest proof. Israel did not do it. Enough is enough."

'France knows the truth'

The Swiss experts said the excessive quantities of the deadly substance found on his remains pointed to the involvement of a third party.

Meanwhile, at Friday's press conference, Palestinian justice minister Ali Mhanna urged France to send findings from an investigation launched more than a year ago.

"We've so far received no response from the French side. We've sent a letter to the French demanding they accelerate the sending of results, and we're still waiting," said Mhanna.

"From the beginning the French have told us they can't send the results until there's Franco-Palestinian judicial cooperation."

Tirawi declared that "France knows the whole truth and details of the martyrdom of Yasser Arafat".

A French foreign ministry spokesman told AFP that France's judiciary would decide when the findings were sent, but a judicial official said the results had not yet been received by the courts.

Some 60 samples were taken from Arafat's remains in November 2012 and divided between Swiss and Russian investigators and a French team carrying out a probe at the request of Arafat's widow.

So far, there has been no word on the French test results.

But Abdullah al-Bashir, who led the Palestinian medical team, said the Russian report they received on November 2 found insufficient evidence that polonium poisoning killed Arafat.

"The position of the Russian team is that after thorough investigation, the polonium-210 content (of Arafat's remains)... does not give sufficient evidence to say it caused the acute radiation syndrome that led to death," he told the conference.

"The Russian report, using advanced medical techniques, pointed to new data that require further study," he said, without elaborating.

But Bashir added that the Swiss, Russian and Palestinian sides agreed the death was not from "natural" causes such as "old age or disease."

On Thursday, Palestinian officials demanded an international inquiry into Arafat's "killing."

"The results prove Arafat was poisoned by polonium," said senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official Wasel Abu Yusef. "This substance is owned by states, not people, meaning that the crime was committed by a state."

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