GAZA CITY (AFP) – Ghalab Abu Khamis has no doubts. “Abu Ammar was poisoned by Israeli agents, it cannot be otherwise.” Two weeks after his passing, conspiracy theories about Yasser Arafat’s still unexplained death abound among Palestinians.
Prime minister Ahmed Qorei has established a special commission to probe the exact cause of the veteran leader’s November 11 death in a French military hospital in an effort to bring about some form closure to the debate.
But, fuelled by ambiguous comments from officials, many ordinary Palestinians are already convinced that Arafat’s death was far from natural.
“Israel didn’t want Abu Ammar (Arafat’s nom-de-guerre) around in the first place because he refused to give up on Jerusalem and the refugees,” 49-year-old Abu Khamis told AFP on the streets of Gaza.
Similar suspicions were voiced on the streets of Ramallah, the West Bank town where Arafat was kept penned in by Israel for almost the last three years of his life.
“When he left the Muqataa (Arafat’s Ramallah compound) he didn’t look like he was going to die so fast but he did and it means he was poisoned,” said local grocer Yasser Ziadeh.
“France knows the truth and cannot not officially announce it for political reasons,” added the 30-year-old.
French privacy laws, which severely restrict access to medical records, have hardly helped dampen the speculation.
Arafat’s nephew Nasser al-Qidwa did obtain a copy of his file on Monday but he also did little to scotch the rumours.
Qidwa, who serves as Palestine envoy to the United Nations, said that French medics had no found any trace of poison in tests performed on the ailing leader but added in the same breath that he was “not excluding” death by poisoning.
Faruq Qaddumi, Arafat’s long time colleague who has succeeded him as head of the mainstream Palestinian Fatah movement, was less equivocal and declared that he had “died due to poison.”
Palestinians are well aware that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made a number of threats to kill Arafat in the months leading up to his death.
Many also recall a bungled assassination attempt in 1997 against the overall leader of the hardline Hamas movement when agents from Israel’s Mossad secret service injected Khaled Meshaal with poison on the streets of Amman.
“Of course the president was poisoned by Israel which long wanted to get rid of him and bring about a new era,” said Mohammed Kanaan, a 35-year-old bank employee in the West Bank town of Jenin.
“I’m surprised that the Palestinian leadership did not publicly announce he was killed from day one,” he added.
“He was killed and the Palestinian Authority should say it loud and clear and declare all agreements signed with Israel null and void,” said Hisham Abu Ali, a 44-year-old agricultural worker.
Last week, French doctors who treated Arafat at the Percy military hospital outside Paris were quoted in Le Monde newspaper as saying he died of a blood clotting disorder called disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC).
However the doctors said they had not detected the underlying cause of the condition, which could be a viral infection or a cancer. They had looked at the possibility of poison but had ruled it out, they said.
Palestinian MP Dalal Salamah said she was keeping an open mind.
“Qidwa’s statement was not clear and I’m not casting it (death by poisoning) aside,” she said. “I’m surprised that a such an advanced country as France would not establish one’s cause of death.”