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Rediff.com  » News » Arafat's death remains a mystery

Arafat's death remains a mystery

September 09, 2005 14:24 IST

Newly revealed medical records have failed to solve the mystery of Yasser Arafat's death, although they do cast doubt on popular conspiracy theories about poisoning or rumors of AIDS.

But the main question - what led to the massive stroke that killed the longtime Palestinian leader - may never be answered.

While Arafat's death has led to an improvement in Israeli-Palestinian relations, ongoing doubts about whether foul play killed him remain a sticking point.

Arafat, 75, died on November 11, 2004, in a French military hospital near Paris after a sudden, rapid decline in his health. Arafat's wife, Suha, refused an autopsy and Palestinian leaders have never given a definitive cause of death.

Two Israeli journalists obtained Arafat's medical records from a senior Palestinian official and turned over the information to The New York Times. One of the journalists, Israel Radio reporter Avi Isacharoff, then shared the records with The Associated Press, which, like the Times, put the information to medical experts.

French doctors who treated Arafat concluded he died of a 'massive brain hemorrhage' after suffering intestinal inflammation, jaundice and a blood condition known as disseminated intravascular coagulation.

But the records are inconclusive about what brought about DIC, which 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," the French doctors wrote. The report makes no mention of poisoning or AIDS.

Arafat was rushed to the Percy Military Training Hospital outside Paris after falling violently ill at his West Bank compound in Ramallah, where Israel had confined him for the last three years of his life. He had been in poor health for several years.

The French report criticized Arafat's living conditions, noting he lived 'in confinement for three years' and 'had no exposure to the sun during that time.' One set of doctors said Arafat did not eat well and had poor hygiene, although other doctors said his diet was sufficient.

Hospital director Dr. Jean-Paul Burlaton refused to discuss Arafat's medical records. "We did our job at the appropriate time and so we have no comment to make," he said.

Since Arafat's death, rumors have swirled throughout the Middle East that Arafat died from either AIDS or poisoning. Many Palestinian officials insist that Israeli agents somehow poisoned him.

Dr. Ashraf al-Kurdi, Arafat's personal physician, asserted Arafat had the AIDS virus in his blood. "It was given to him to cover up the poison," he told the AP. Al-Kurdi, however, did not say how the AIDS virus or poison might have entered Arafat's body. He did not join the French doctors and would not say whether he had seen their records.

Israeli officials reject the accusations and said they hoped the records would put such assertions to rest.

"Israel was not in any way involved in what happened with Arafat. The Palestinians know this, the Arabs know this, Arafat's family knows this," said Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. "This matter is inflammatory ... and I think it is important that this be taken off the agenda immediately."

The Times said poisoning was highly unlikely. It noted that toxicology studies done by the French doctors were negative and said Arafat did not suffer extensive kidney and liver damage typical of poisoning.

It also said Arafat's condition improved in the hospital and that he was able to walk and talk before slipping into a coma on November 3. Such improvement would make poisoning unlikely.

The newspaper cited an unidentified Israeli infectious-diseases expert as criticizing the French medical team for not testing for AIDS. But the expert said after studying the records, AIDS was unlikely due to the sudden onset of an intestinal illness.

Dr. Dan Rorman, an Israeli internist who reviewed the French doctors' conclusions, said Arafat's condition at the end of his life was not uncommon for an elderly man suffering from an infection. "The series of clinical events as detailed in this conclusion are not rare for a severe infection in a man of his age," Rorman said.

The biggest unknown is the nature of an infection that appears to have led to the blood disorder DIC, which was never controlled and led to his death. The French doctors could not determine where in Arafat's bowel the infection was located and what microbes caused it. Food contamination has been mentioned as a possibility.

Arafat became ill with nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea after eating dinner in his compound Oct. 12. The symptoms continued for more than two weeks before he was evacuated to France. "The mystery around Yasser Arafat will only grow bigger and bigger after reading this report," Isacharoff said.

 

Josef Federman in Jerusalem
Copyright © 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.