A leader of a Palestinian militant group publicly accused Israel of killing Yasser Arafat.
Neither doctors nor Palestinian leaders would say what caused Arafat’s death on Thursday after days in a coma at a Paris hospital. Rumours he had been poisoned by Israel had swirled for weeks.
“I hold Israel responsible for the crime of killing Abu Ammar,” Hamas’ top political leader, Khaled Mashaal, told Al-Jazeera television, using the late Palestinian leader’s nom de guerre. He offered no evidence.
Mashaal referred to his own poisoning by Israeli agents in 1997 in Jordan. Mashaal survived only after Israel sent the antidote under pressure from the late Jordanian King Hussein.
“French, Arab or Palestinian doctors may not be able to find evidence” Arafat had been poisoned, Mashaal said.
“Yes, death is an act of God and a man the age of brother Abu Ammar may die a natural death, but all the circumstances which we have seen in the past two weeks and medical reports indicate that brother Abu Ammar had been poisoned,” Mashaal said.
Hamas had opposed Arafat’s decision to negotiate peace with Israel and been a rival for power.
Mashaal said Arafat’s death was “a message to the Palestinians and Arabs that this will be the fate of anyone who rejects an Israeli settlement with Israeli conditions”.
“There are suspicions and many question marks that Israel is the one which killed Yasser Arafat. Consequently, Israel today by killing Yasser Arafat has killed the peace process. It has killed the one with whom it has reached a settlement.”
Hamas has been demanding a say in Palestinian decision-making and a unified Palestinian leadership. Its demands had been resisted by Arafat’s mainstream Fatah faction, the dominant power in the Palestinian Authority.
As Arafat was dying, Hamas last week toughened its hard-line position, warning it won’t stop fighting, negotiate peace with Israel nor accept a Palestinian leadership “brought by Israeli tanks”.
Hamas is responsible for killing scores of Israelis with suicide bombings and refusing to accept the Jewish state’s right to exist.