Arab doctors will meet in Jordan to probe rumours that former Palestinian president Yasser Arafat was poisoned, nearly five years after he died of what French medics called a massive brain haemorrhage.
Mr Arafat’s death on November 11 2004 at a military hospital outside Paris almost immediately spawned speculation he had been killed by Israel, which viewed him as an obstacle to concluding a peace treaty.
Mr Arafat, 75, who led the Palestinian movement for almost 40 years became violently ill in his Ramallah compound in October 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 his condition and his widow refused an autopsy.
Adding to the speculation, Palestinian leaders have never given a definitive cause of Mr Arafat’s death.
French doctors who treated Mr Arafat concluded in a report that he died of a “massive brain haemorrhage” 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 Mr Arafat’s death. French doctors declined to comment on the speculation.
There has been no prior formal probe into Mr Arafat’s death that followed a quick deterioration of the Palestinian leader’s health.
Jordanian heart surgeon Abdullah al-Bashir said the meeting involving seven to eight doctors – many who treated Arafat when he fell ill in October 2004 – will try to determine whether Arafat was poisoned.
The long-time 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 Mr Arafat, fuelled speculation on the cause of death after he died.
At the time, Dr al-Kurdi said lab tests revealed Mr 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,” Dr al-Kurdi said in 2004.
Adding to the speculation, Mr 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 Mr 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.
Mr Al-Bashir said the decision to undertake the inquiry was taken last week at a meeting in Cairo to launch the Yasser Arafat Foundation.