Wed, Nov 24, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Arafat's nephew pins blame on Israel

MEDICAL REPORT Although doctors found no known poisons in the late Palestinian leader's body, his nephew insisted that the Israeli authorities are somehow responsible

AP , PARIS

Yasser Arafat's weighty medical dossier is inconclusive on the cause of the Palestinian leader's death but the blame still lies with Israel, his nephew said.

Doctors found no known poisons in Arafat's body, but "I believe the Israeli authorities are largely responsible for what happened," said Nasser al-Kidwa, who is also the Palestinian representative to the UN.

His accusation, at a Paris news conference on Monday, two hours after French authorities gave him the files despite objections from Arafat's widow, could inflame suspicions among Palestinians that Israel was somehow to blame -- if only by confining Arafat to his West Bank headquarters for the last three years of his life, as Al-Kidwa asserted.

He said he had no doubts that Arafat's still undisclosed illness was "connected to the conditions that the late president was living and suffering from ... This is a principle part of the issue."

The nephew acknowledged that he had not had time to read the 558-page file, plus X-rays, that he said would be provided to Palestinian leaders.

They have promised to disclose the cause of Arafat's death and formed an inquiry committee that includes doctors who treated him before he was flown to a Paris-area military hospital where he died Nov. 11, aged 75.

Al-Kidwa said toxicology tests were conducted during Arafat's two-week stay in France but "no poisons known to doctors were found." He did not, however, categorically rule out poisoning -- which again could fuel conspiracy theories in the Middle East that Arafat was murdered.

"This possibility could not be excluded," he said. "We are not excluding that but we are not asserting that, because ... we do not have the proof that suggests there was poison."

He promised that the Palestinian Authority would study the file to try to determine a cause of death, but also counseled patience.

"For the French authorities, medically, the file was considered closed. For us, and because of the lack of a clear diagnosis, a question mark remains and personally I believe that it will remain there for some time to come," al-Kidwa said.

"At some point the Palestinian people will know more facts. At some point the Palestinians will collectively reach a conclusion. At that point the matter will come to rest," he added.

French officials say judicial authorities here would have acted had they suspected wrongdoing.

Before his death, French doctors had disclosed that Arafat had a low count of platelets -- which aid in blood clotting -- a high white blood cell count, that leukemia had been ruled out and that he was in a coma. Palestinian officials said he had a brain hemorrhage shortly before he died.

That is consistent with a variety of illnesses from pneumonia to cancer. Arafat had been suffering from poor health for years before France flew him here on Oct. 29 for treatment after his condition deteriorated.

Farouk Kaddoumi, the new head of the Palestine Liberation Organization's mainstream Fatah faction, reiterated on Monday in Beirut, Lebanon, that he still believes Arafat was poisoned. Kaddoumi said all symptoms, treatments and medical tests had eliminated all possible ailments he might have died from.

"Why, then, the low platelets count? There is no reason except poisoning," he said.

Al-Kidwa, meanwhile, played down objections from Arafat's widow, Suha, about the French decision to give him the files.

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