- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 18, 2004

RAMALLAH, West Bank — French authorities said they will release medical information on the cause of Yasser Arafat’s death to his diplomat nephew today in an effort to quash speculation about a conspiracy to kill the Palestinian leader.

Rumors are rampant in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that Israel conspired with an aide to Mr. Arafat to poison the leader. The unverifiable accusations have been denied by French, Palestinian and Israeli officials, but threaten to undermine the credibility of Mr. Arafat’s successors and are embarrassing the French government.

Until now, medical authorities have kept the cause of Mr. Arafat’s death confidential in accordance with French law, which allows only family members to retrieve the records. But Palestinian officials requested yesterday that U.N. envoy Nasser Al-Kidwa, Mr. Arafat’s nephew, be given access to the doctors’ report.

“The French government promised to deliver tomorrow a copy of the report to Nasser Al-Kidwa and to [Mr. Arafat’s] wife,” said Majdi Khaldi, an aide to Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath.

“Everybody is waiting for this information. The report is important for all of the questions that the public is asking.”

Mr. Khaldi said Mr. Al-Kidwa would relay the information immediately to Palestinian authorities, who on Wednesday formed a committee to investigate the cause of the death.

Mr. Arafat’s illness has been shrouded in mystery from the moment he fell sick nearly three weeks ago. At a press conference last week, Mr. Shaath ruled out poisoning and cancer, but wasn’t able to explain what caused Mr. Arafat’s blood platelet count to drop.

Mr. Arafat died of a blood clotting disorder, said an article yesterday in France’s Le Monde newspaper, which cited unidentified doctors in the hospital where he died. The report did not identify the cause of the disorder.

The absence of conclusive information on the death has stoked rumors of poisoning. Mr. Arafat’s own doctors and aides have helped fan speculation about a plot.

Last week the militant organization Hamas signed onto the conspiracy theory. In Gaza yesterday, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the military wing of Mr. Arafat’s Fatah party, circulated a leaflet threatening to avenge his death unless the Palestinian government disclosed the cause within two weeks.

Mohammad Yaghi, a columnist for the Palestinian Al-Ayyam newspaper, said the prevalence of state-controlled media in the Middle East had left ample room for speculation about conspiracy.

“Conspiracy theories have real roots inside the Arab world, not only Palestinian society,” Mr. Yaghi said. “Before the electronic media, there was no access to information, and people don’t trust the Arab media.”

He said the Palestinian public thinks the government has information about Mr. Arafat’s death that it is not revealing.

The poison rumors help Palestinians explain Mr. Arafat’s swift decline in health and are fed by the Israeli government’s repeated statements that it was prepared to remove him from power in Ramallah.

It is not clear, however, whether the report given to Mr. Arafat’s nephew will dispel the conspiracy theories. Bassem Abu Samayeh, director of the state-run Palestinian radio station, doubted that the conclusions of the French health authorities could be trusted.

“I am sure that the French doctors will not say he was poisoned,” he said. “They don’t want to get in trouble with Israel.”

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