- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

AMMAN, JORDAN (AP) - Nearly five years after Yasser Arafat died from what French doctors called a massive brain hemorrhage, Arab doctors will meet in Jordan to look into lingering suspicious the Palestinian leader was poisoned.

Arafat’s death at a military hospital outside Paris quickly spawned speculation he’d been killed by Israel, which viewed him as an obstacle to a peace treaty.

The 75-year-old Arafat, who led the Palestinian movement for almost 40 years, fell violently ill in October 2004 at his West Bank compound in Ramallah. He was moved to a French hospital where he died Nov. 11, 2004.

At the time, French doctors bound by strict privacy rules were tightlipped about Arafat’s condition, and his widow refused an autopsy. Palestinian leaders have never given a definitive cause of his death.

French doctors who treated Arafat concluded in a report later obtained by The Associated Press that he died of a “massive brain hemorrhage” after suffering intestinal inflammation, jaundice and a blood condition known as disseminated intravascular coagulation, or DIC.

What brought on the DIC was not explained. 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 poison or another popular theory, AIDS.

Israel strongly denied any role in Arafat’s death. French doctors declined to comment on the speculation.

Jordanian heart surgeon Abdullah al-Bashir said the meeting Thursday involving seven to eight doctors _ many who treated Arafat when he fell ill _ will try to determine whether he was poisoned.

The Palestinian leader battled Israel for years before signing peace treaties in the 1990s. But Israel blamed him for the failure of further peace talks, and he spent his last two years under siege in his West Bank compound, after Israel accused him of being behind a wave of suicide bombings.

Dr. Ashraf al-Kurdi, a Jordanian neurologist who regularly examined Arafat, fueled speculation after Arafat died.

Al-Kurdi said lab tests revealed Arafat had a low platelet count. He insisted doctors had excluded other reasons for the count, such as infection or cancer, and that poison could be an explanation. Platelets help blood clot.

Although “not definitive, I believe the highest reason for Arafat’s mysterious death is poisoning,” al-Kurdi said in 2004.

Arafat’s nephew, Nasser al-Qidwa, who received a copy of the French medical report, said in 2004 that the lack of clear reason for his uncle’s death raised suspicions it was from “unnatural” causes.

Israel has been implicated before trying to poison Palestinian officials. In 1997, Israel tried to poison Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Jordan. The agents were caught, and King Hussein of Jordan forced Israel to provide the antidote in exchange for their release.

Al-Bashir said the decision to undertake the inquiry was taken last week at a meeting in Cairo to launch the Yasser Arafat Foundation.



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