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Cause of Yasser Arafat's death


Yasser Arafat died on 11 November 2004. Arafat had been the President of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) from 1996 and the long-time Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from 1968. The cause Arafat's dead remained unclear and different theories have been suggested.

Initial reports of illness

First reports of Arafat's treatment by his doctors for what his spokesman said was the "flu" came on 25 October 2004, after he vomited during a meeting. His condition deteriorated in the following days.[1] Following visits by other doctors, including teams from Tunisia, Jordan, and Egypt—and agreement by Israel not to block his return—Arafat was taken to France on a French government jet, and was admitted to the Hôpital d'instruction des armées Percy in Clamart, a suburb of Paris.[2] On 3 November, he had lapsed into a gradually deepening coma. Various sources speculated that Arafat was comatose, in a "vegetative state" or dead. However, Palestinian authorities and Arafat's Jordanian doctor denied reports that Arafat was brain dead and had been kept on life support.[3]
A controversy erupted between officials of the PNA and Suha Arafat when officials from the PNA traveled to France to see Yasser Arafat. Suha stated "They are trying to bury Abu Ammar [Arafat] alive".[4] French law forbids physicians from discussing the condition of their patients with anybody with the exception, in case of grave prognosis, of close relatives.[5] Accordingly, all communications concerning Arafat's health had to be authorized by his wife. Palestinian officials expressed regret that the news about Yasser Arafat was "filtered" by her.[6]
The next day, chief surgeon Christian Estripeau of Percy reported that Arafat's condition had worsened, and that he had fallen into a deeper coma.[7] Sheikh Taissir Tamimi, the head of the Islamic court of the Palestinian territories—who held a vigil at Arafat's bedside—visited Arafat and declared that it was out of the question to disconnect him from life support since, according to him, such an action is prohibited in Islam


Arafat was on 11 November 2004 at 3:30 am UTC pronounced dead at the age of 75 of what French doctors called a massive haemorrhagic cerebrovascular accident.[9][10] However, the underlying infection was declared unknown.[11] The official statement announcing his death failed to determine a cause, saying only that he had a "mystery blood disorder".[12]
The Canard Enchaîné newspaper reported alleged leaks of information by unnamed medical sources at Percy hospital that had access to Arafat and his medical file. According to the newspaper, the doctors at Percy hospital suspected, from Arafat's arrival, grave lesions of the liver responsible for an alteration of the composition of the blood; Arafat was therefore placed in a hematology service. Leukemia was "soundly ruled out". According to the same source, the reason why this diagnosis of cirrhosis could not be made available was that, in the mind of the general public, cirrhosis is generally associated with the consequences of alcohol abuse. Even though the diagnosis was not of alcoholic cirrhosis and Arafat was not known for consuming any alcohol, there was a likelihood of rumors. The source explained that Arafat's living conditions did little to improve the situation. Thus, according to the source, the probable causes of the disease were multiple; Arafat's coma was a consequence of the worsened cirrhosis. The French newspaper Le Monde quoted doctors as saying that he suffered from "an unusual blood disease and a liver problem".[13]
After Arafat's death, the French Ministry of Defense said that Arafat's medical file would be transmitted to only his next of kin. It was determined that Arafat's nephew and PNA envoy to the UN, Nasser al-Qudwa, was a close enough relative, thus working around Suha Arafat's silence on her husband's illness. Nasser al-Qudwa was given a copy of Arafat's 558-page medical file by the French Ministry of Defense.[14]

Theories about the cause of death

There are numerous theories about the cause of Arafat's death. Initially Arafat records were withheld by senior Palestinian officials. In 2004, Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath has said after talks with Arafat's French doctors that they had “ruled out completely poison.” However, Shaath recently stated in [15]"The Price of Kings" a documentary on Arafat's leadership, "I have no doubt that he was assassinated. The French said that whatever toxic material was in his body did not test positive in their toxicology table, saying in plain words "this was a poison we did not have in our laboratories"
Al-Kurdi, Arafat's personal physician for 18 years, said "I would usually be summoned to attend to Arafat immediately, even when all he had was a simple cold...But when his medical situation was really deteriorating, they chose not to call me at all." and Arafat's wife, Suha, refused to allow him to visit Arafat in the private Paris hospital where he was being treated. Later he was denied access to Arafat's body after his death.[16]
He also lamented that Arafat's widow Suha had refused an autopsy, which would have answered many questions regarding cause of death.[17][18]
In 2005, obtained medical records showed that his doctors could not agree on the cause of the 75-year-old's death, stating that Arafat died from a stroke that stemmed from an unknown condition. Analysis based on those records suggested him dying from poisoning, AIDS, or an infection.[19][20]
In 2012, newly released medical records revealed that French doctors initially diagnosed Arafat with gastroenteritis.[21]


In 2004, Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath said after talks with Arafat's French doctors that they had “ruled out completely poison.”[20] In 2005, based on obtained Arafat records, The New York Times claimed it was highly unlikely that Arafat died from poisoning.[19] While, al-Kurdi called for the creation of an independent commission to carry out investigations concerning Arafat's suspicious death, stating, "any doctor would tell you that these are the symptoms of a poisoning".[17][22]
Former Knesset member, peace activist and personal friend of Arafat Uri Avnery claimed at the time of Arafat's death that he had been poisoned, and has repeated the claim recently.[23] Another "senior Israeli physician" claimed in the article in Haaretz that it was "a classic case of food poisoning", probably caused by a meal eaten four hours before he fell ill that may have contained a toxin such as ricin, rather than a standard bacterial poisoning. However, in the same week as the report in Haaretz, The New York Times published a separate report, also based on access to Arafat's medical records, which claimed that it was highly unlikely that Arafat had food poisoning.[19][20]


In 2009, Bassam Abu Sharif, Arafat's former advisor, alleged that the Mossad poisoned Arafat by a lethal dose of thallium,[24] a rare chemical whose effects are difficult to trace,[25] through Arafat's daily medications. Abu Sarif alleged that the Israel Defense Forces had held the driver of a Palestinian ambulance that would administer his medications for a minimum of 30 minutes while the IDF searched it. According to Abu Sarif, this incident allowed Israel to replace Arafat's medications with poison.[26] In his book Arafat and the Dream of Palestine: An Insider's Account, Abu Sarif wrote, "I was positive they were poisoning his food on a daily basis and doing it right under our very eyes."[27]
In 2011, Abu Sarif alleged that an investigation conducted by "the most prominent forensic toxicology expert in the UK" revealed that thallium was responsible for poisoning Arafat. According to Abu Sharif, European toxicology experts aren't familiar with thallium, and only the "forensic toxicology expert" could identify the thallium. However, Abu Sharif did not reveal the names of the "expert" or the institution responsible for the research.[25]
As a result of Abu Sharif's allegations, the delegates at the August 2009 Fatah convention in Bethlehem voted for a resolution that blamed Israel for poisoning Yasser Arafat. An editorial in The Jerusalem Post questioned the legitimacy of Abu Sharif's allegations, noting that "nobody asked how Abu Sharif came to possess this information, whether he can back it up or why he chose to divulge it so late."[28] A leader of Fatah and a nephew of Arafat said that an investigation indicated a "high possibility of poisoning" but there was not any proof.[29]


In September 2005, based on obtained Arafat records, an Israeli AIDS expert claimed that Arafat bore all the symptoms of AIDS, while The New York Times claimed it was highly unlikely that Arafat died from AIDS.[19] and John Loftus reported on ABC radio that Arafat had died of AIDS. According to Loftus, the CIA had knowledge of his condition, and convinced Israel not to assassinate him and wait for his inevitable death of the disease, since the subsequent widespread connotations of the disease with homosexuality would discredit him.[30]
An article published in a number of American news publications rejected the assertion that Arafat had AIDS, stating, "An Israeli infectious disease specialist said he would have performed the test, if only to be thorough and to refute the rumors that surrounded the case. He said news accounts during Arafat's illness made him strongly suspect that Arafat had AIDS. But after studying the records, he said that was improbable, given the sudden onset of the intestinal troubles", though AIDS-associated opportunistic infections such as cryptosporidiosis can begin in this way. This same article also states that it is "highly unlikely" that Arafat had died from poisoning, and further asserts that Arafat had died from a stroke linked to an "underlying infection."[31][32]
In 2012, investigations based on documentation provided by Suha Arafat found that there was no symptoms or signs suggesting AIDS.[33]

High-tech laser

In 2005, Palestinian ambassador to Sri Lanka Attalah Quiba alleged that Arafat was killed by two Israelis with a high-tech laser, and the two Israelis attempted to flee but were "wrestled down by Palestinian Security personnel." Quiba also alleged that 16 countries had tested the blood of Arafat, and determined that Arafat was poisoned through "high technology."[34]


New medical records that were released in July 2012 showed that Arafat's condition was initially diagnosed as viral gastroenteritis by his Arab doctors who took care of him in the West Bank in the Mukataa before he was airlifted to France, although his condition later improved and he even joined in the fast of Ramadan. However, there was persistent vomiting and diarrhea, Arafat began feeling weaker, and his blood platelet count dropped. On 28 October, his medical team decided to send him abroad, and he was flown to France the next morning.[35][36]
Dr. Joseph Zimmerman, an Israeli specialist who reviewed the Ramallah medical file said Arafat's early symptoms were not consistent with viral gastroenteritis, and didn't believe that type of viral infection would lead to death. He also said that poisoning appeared unlikely, even by a radioactive substance such as polonium-210. He reminded that Arafat's platelet counts dropped suddenly and stayed low, and Arafat eventually exhibited signs of liver dysfunction, which could have been caused by a bacterial infection, but is not typical of poisoning.[35][36]

Platelet disorder

A report by the French doctors who treated him states that a platelet disorder caused Arafat's death. The cause of this platelet disorder is unknown, although poison is a possibility.[37]

Natural causes

Barry Rubin says that Arafat was 75 years old, and alleges that he was overweight, ate an unhealthy diet, worked long hours, did not take good care of himself and also alleges he had very bad doctors.[38]

Suspicion of poisoning with polonium

According to Israel Radio, a former Palestinian intelligence officer, attorney Fahmi Shabana, said that Yasser Arafat's political rivals were responsible for his death, and that he was poisoned with polonium. Shabana, who took part in the investigation into Arafat's death in a French hospital in 2004, also said that several months after his death, the same cell murdered the head of military intelligence in Gaza, General Moussa Arafat, a relative of the PLO leader, in order to prevent a blood feud. The lawyer called on Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas to reopen the investigation into Arafat's death."[39][40]

Al Jazeera's investigation

In July 2012, it was reported by Al Jazeera that tests carried out by the Institute of Radiation Physics at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland as part of a nine-month investigation found traces of polonium, a rare, highly radioactive element, on Arafat's personal belongings. It was further stated that these belongings were given to his widow, Suha Arafat, after he died in 2004.[41] According to Al Jazeera, he was poisoned, although it is not known by whom. The lethal element was found in quantities much higher than could occur naturally, and further 60%–80% of that polonium (depending on the item being tested) had not come from natural sources.[33]
An official press release from the Institut de radiophysique, where those items were analyzed, stated that:[42]
"an unexplained quantity of Polonium-210 has been detected on the personal effects of Mr. Arafat. However, this is not sufficient to determine the causes of death. In particular, it will be recalled that, contrary to what happened in the case of the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, Mr. Arafat did not lose his hair, and some of the findings in the forensic report are inconsistent with an acute radiation syndrome."
A spokesman for the Institut de Radiophysique stressed that the "clinical symptoms described in Arafat's medical reports were not consistent with polonium-210 and that conclusions could not be drawn as to whether the Palestinian leader was poisoned or not", and that "the only way to confirm the findings would be to exhume Arafat's body to test it for polonium-210."[43][44][45] François Bochud, who heads the Institute of Radiation Physics in Lausanne, Switzerland, stated that "our results are clearly not a proof of any poisoning,."[46] Alastair Hay, professor of environmental toxicology at the University of Leeds in England, stated that "You don't know much about the provenance of the clothing and whether it had been tampered with later on. You'd want to test the body."[46]
In response to Al Jazeera's report, Dr. Ely Karmon, at Herzliya’s Institute for Counterterrorism, a specialist in chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear terrorism, said that "the half-life of the substance would make it impossible for polonium to have been discovered at such high levels if it had been used to kill Arafat eight years ago. If it had been used for poisoning, minimal levels should be seen now. Yet much higher levels were found. Someone planted the polonium much later.” He went on to question why Arafat’s widow, Suha Arafat, who provided the researchers with Arafat’s belongings was not also poisoned while she was by his side at the hospital touching him and his clothing."[47]
Israel has denied any connection to the rumors. Deputy Spokesman of Israeli Foreign Ministry Paul Hirschson was skeptical of the rumors, joking that, "All of a sudden, Suha's checking her wash basket and discovered clothes that weren't washed for eight years. Suddenly, out of nowhere a couple of garments turn up; we test them, and presto! There's Polonium." Avi Dichter, who was in charge of the Shin Bet when Arafat died, told Army radio that "Yasser Arafat had many enemies, domestically, abroad. But let them investigate... The Palestinians know well how to investigate what goes on in their house. Let them investigate and find out."[48]

Call for new investigation

In a press release on 4 July 2012, Suha Arafat, Arafat's widow, called for the exhumation of Arafat's body for further testing, in response to the Al Jazeera story about polonium.[33] In response, Abbas ordered a committee to be formed, and stated that there were no religious or political obstacles to exhuming the body.[49] However, Nimr Hamad, an aide to Abbas, stated that a team of experts would first be sent to Europe to learn more from the Swiss institute and from the French military hospital where Arafat died. Abbas stated that he'd only order an autopsy if the family agrees, but did not define whom he meant in the family.[50] Later, Abbas stated that they would only investigate "if necessary."[51] Tawfiq Tirawi, the head of the committee in charge of investigating Arafat’s death, stated that "We are certain that there are Palestinian hands that contributed to the elimination of Yasser Arafat." In regards to those people, Tirawi stated that they "will be subject to severe penalties and doomed to death."[52] Tunisia also requested that the Arab League convene a ministerial meeting to discuss Arafat's death and to study the circumstances in which he died.[53] Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Arabi stated that a permanent representative meeting would be held to discuss Arafat’s death, and permanent representatives will prepare a report and raise proposals over necessary action, which they will present in the soonest Arab League ministerial meeting.[54]
On 30 July 2012, Tirawi added, "We haven't initiated the investigation based on the hypothesis that Arafat was killed by poison, but we agreed to begin an investigation searching directly for the killer regardless of the medical reports which will eventually show the method of killing and name of the toxin."[55]

Exhumation of Arafat's remains

On 9 July 2012, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas approved the exhumation of Arafat's body in response to the Al Jazeera story about polonium.[56]
On 8 August 2012, Swiss experts were invited to the West Bank to prepair the examination of Yasser Arafat's remains for possible poisoning.[57] The lab said that they wanted guarantees that the investigation would not be used for political purposes, saying, "Meanwhile, our main concern is to guarantee the independence, the credibility and the transparency of any involvement that we may have."[58]
On 27 November 2012, three teams of international investigators collected samples from Arafat's body and the surrounding soil in the mausoleum in Ramallah. A French, a Swiss and a Russian team have independently investigated the samples.[59][60]
Publication of the results of the studies was delayed, reportedly on request of the Palestinian Authority, who feared they could have negative impact on the peace talks.[61]
After testing of Arafat's remains, the Russian Medical-Biological Agency concluded that Polonium was not the cause of his death. [62] However, the government scientific body later denied that it had made any official statement about the research, saying only that it had handed its results to the Russian Foreign Ministry. [63] Al Jazeera, however, found that the Russian scientists only investigated four of 20 samples, being the samples that were unlikely to show the amount of radioactive exposure. The scientists also appear to have been restricted by the Russian Foreign Ministry in how to present the report. According to Al Jazeera's source, "Russia's goal was to fulfill the Palestinian Authority's request, not offend Israel by helping the PA, and not create a new hotbed in the Middle East".[64]

Murder inquiry

On 10 July 2012, Suha Arafat declared her intentions to launch a court case in France into the death of her husband. The exact nature of the legal complaint has not been determined yet.[54][65][66]
On 28 August 2012, French prosecutors opened a murder inquiry into Arafat's death. The probe came after Arafat's family launched legal action in France in July 2012 claiming that Arafat was poisoned.[67] However, once the probe was opened, Suha Arafat refused to exhume Arafat's body, backtracking on previous comments she made calling to exhume his body.[68]

Allegation of killing of Arafat by Israel

Palestinian official and nephew of Arafat Nasser al-Qudwa said that the report of the committee that investigated the death of late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat revealed that the leader was poisoned to death, and that Israel is directly responsible for his assassination. He said “Israel as a state, is a country that has access to Polonium, had the capability to assassinate the late leader, and expressed clear interest in getting rid of him”.[69]
Israeli journalist Yossi Melman, who specializes in espionage stories, reported that, based on his research with Dan Raviv,[70] Israel did not kill Arafat. Melman stated that the IDF had wanted to take harsh action against Arafat, ranging from killing him to expelling him, but Prime Minister Sharon rejected these ideas, stating that the advantages wouldn't outweigh being accused of killing Arafat, and Arafat already seemed to be an irrelevant leader who wasn't trusted by the international community.[71].[8]
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