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French Arafat probe fails to allay Palestinian doubt
Agence France Presse
Suha Arafat poses near a portrait of her late husband and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in her apartment in Sliema, outside Valletta, November 27, 2012. (REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi)
Suha Arafat poses near a portrait of her late husband and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in her apartment in Sliema, outside Valletta, November 27, 2012. (REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi)
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RAMALLAH: A French report ruling out poisoning in Yasser Arafat's 2004 death, rather than laying to rest suspicions of an assassination, has prompted denial and incredulity from Palestinian officials and relatives of the late president.

The Palestinians, who have long cried foul, with some pointing the finger directly at Israel, cited Wednesday apparent inconsistencies between the French findings and separate ones from Switzerland and Russia that gave currency to alleged poisoning by polonium.

"The Swiss and Russian reports, as well as the investigations carried out over the past nine months by the Palestinian team confirm that Arafat did not die of disease or of old age," said Ahmed Assaf, spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah party.

"He died from polonium," Assaf told AFP.

"We in Fatah believe... Israel alone is behind this crime, and we intend to get to the culprits."

Israel has consistently denied having a hand in Arafat's death at a French military hospital, and foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP Wednesday the results of the French probe were "no surprise."

French doctors were unable to say in 2004 what killed Arafat, and an autopsy was never performed, at the request of his widow, Suha.

But a 2004 French hospital report said Arafat had "four symptoms" whose simultaneous occurrence could not be explained by natural illness or disease.

At the time, French doctors were unable to say what killed Arafat and an autopsy was never performed, at the request of his widow, Suha.

However, a 2004 French hospital report did say Arafat had "four symptoms" whose simultaneous occurrence could not be explained by natural illness or disease.

In the latest report, French experts ruled out poisoning, and believe Arafat may have died of natural causes, a source close to the probe said Tuesday.

Those findings differ significantly from those of Swiss scientists, who said last month their research offered some support for the suggestion that significantly higher-than-normal amounts of polonium killed Arafat.

The Russian investigation was inconclusive.

Suha Arafat told AFP she was "shocked" by the French report.

"I'm still completely convinced that the martyr Arafat did not die a natural death, and I will keep trying to get to the truth," she said.

"I'm shocked by (the results of) the French medical report, of which I only received four summary pages to look at."

In contrast, she said, "the Swiss report was a detailed, 107-page, professional report talking in detail about the presence of polonium on Arafat's clothes.

"How the French haven't found anything is completely illogical," she added.

For his part, the head of the Palestinian Authority's inquiry, who said following the Swiss report that Israel was the "prime suspect" in Arafat's "killing,"refused to accept the French conclusions at face value.

"We've known from the beginning that the different reports could be corroborative or contradictory, and so we're pursuing the inquiry" in light of apparent contradictions, Tawfiq Tirawi told Palestinian television.

Abbas Zaki, a member of Fatah's central committee, went as far as accusing the French of inconsistent examination.

"In 2004, the French said (his skin) was a strange colour after he died. They were very firm in their stance and had no doubt that the death was caused not by illness but by poisoning," he said.

Suha Arafat's lawyer told reporters in Paris Tuesday that although French and Swiss investigators found the same amount of polonium on Arafat's remains, they came to different conclusions about how it got there.

"There are those who say it's the polonium inside Arafat's body which has contaminated the outside (his clothes) -- that's the Swiss. There are those who say the opposite, that the external polonium contaminated the inside (the French)," said Pierre-Olivier Sur.

France opened a formal murder inquiry in August 2012, a month after an Al-Jazeera television documentary linked Arafat's death to polonium poisoning.

Arafat's remains were exhumed last year and some 60 samples were taken from them and divided between Swiss and Russian investigators and a French team carrying out a probe at Suha's request.

 
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