Ceremony Marking Anniversary Of Arafat's Death
A Palestinian holds up a poster depicting late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during a ceremony marking the anniversary of his death, in the West Bank city of Hebron. Reuters

Palestinian officials have called an international probe into the death of its leader Yasser Arafat, more than eight years after he died of several mysterious health complications, following a report that he could have been poisoned with a radioactive substance known as polonium.

Though this is not the first time foul play was suspected in his death, a new investigation report has provided sufficient grounds for a thorough inquiry.

Here is an account of the events leading up to his death.


Arafat was the President of the Palestinian National Authority at the time of his death and had been held in isolation in a compound in Ramallah by the Israeli army for three years. He fell ill only two weeks prior to his death, hours after his supper on Oct. 12, which physicians initially diagnosed as flu. However, unlike in flu, Arafat didn't have a fever and instead came down with nausea, diarrhea and abdominal pain.

His doctors in Ramallah could not diagnose that he was suffering from an acute blood disorder known as disseminated intravascular coagulation, or DIC, which eventually led to his death.

He was transferred on a French government jet to a military hospital in Clamart, a suburb of Paris, where he lapsed into a coma before dying on Nov 11, 2004, at the age of 75, of a mystery blood disorder, as per the official description.


The suspicion of foul play in Arafat's death was fueled by secrecy surrounding his medical records and claims made by his wife and the personal physician of a huge conspiracy against Arafat.

A New York Times report published in September 2005, which first independently reviewed Arafat's medical records from the French military hospital, said that doctors were unable to determine the root cause of his fatal illness. However, the records clarified that Arafat didn't die of AIDS as was widely rumored at the time of his death.

The medical record states that despite the diagnosis of flu, Arafat's physicians brought in from Jordan, Tunisia and Egypt didn't prescribe antibiotics until Oct. 27, a fortnight after he fell ill. Strangely enough, Arafat's personal physician Ashraf al-Kurdi was not allowed anywhere near him until Oct. 28, the day before he was moved to France.

French physicians also never diagnosed the underlying disease or infection that resulted in the blood disorder.

Though Kurdi and many senior Palestinian officials alleged that he was poisoned, the medical tests conducted for traces of conventional poisons like barbiturates, opiates and amphetamines came negative. Arafat didn't suffer extensive kidney or liver damage as would be the case when exposed to poisonous substances.

Kurdi, however, remained completely convinced that Arafat had been poisoned.

I believe today he was poisoned, Kurdi said in September 2005. All the symptoms were showing that.

An autopsy was not performed due to objection raised by his wife.

Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories surrounding Arafat's suspicious death are not confined only to the Palestinians, since Israeli leadership's dislike for him was never a secret.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon termed Arafat an obstacle to peace and had gone on record favoring his elimination, according to a New York Times report. In 2002, Sharon told the Maariv newspaper that he regretted not eliminating Arafat in 1982 during the Lebanese war.

In September 2003, Israeli Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, killing [Arafat] is definitely one of the options.

However, the American administration had pressured Israel into simply holding Arafat under isolation after the Israeli military regained control of the West Bank in the spring of 2002. Sharon, however, was unhappy with the decision and reportedly informed President George W. Bush April 14, 2004 that he might no longer oblige the U.S. as far as Arafat's elimination was concerned, according to an account by Uri Dan, a former Sharon confidant.

President Bush replied that it would perhaps be best to leave Arafat's fate in the hands of the Almighty. Sharon said that one should sometimes help Him, Dan was quoted as saying by the New York Times.

The French government remained somewhat neutral to the speculation surrounding Arafat's death, trying to quash rumors without altogether denying them.

If the doctors had had the slightest doubt, they would have referred it to the police. I note that permission was given for him to be buried, a former French government spokesman, Jean-Francois Cope, told reporters after the weekly French cabinet meeting, according to a Washington Post report on Nov. 18, 2004.

I strongly believe Arafat was poisoned, said Hishad Ahmed, a political scientist at Bir Zeit University, on the outskirts of Ramallah. Most likely, it was done by Israel, but it would have to have been executed by those around Arafat.

Arafat's wife, Suha Arafat, evidently paranoid about possible conspiracy within her husband's circle, refused to allow his aides to see him and filtered all medical records about his condition, which she is allowed to do under French privacy laws.

Suha complained to Al-Jazeera television -- which would later conduct an investigation to find evidence for polonium poisoning -- of a conspiracy against her husband at the time of his death.

However, Suha angered Palestinian officials by refusing to reveal full information about their leader.

Arafat is not the property of Suha. He's the property of the Palestinian people, and it is the right of the Palestinian people to know how their president died, said Hussein Sheikh, the general secretary of Arafat's Fatah political movement in the West Bank.

Maybe I don't have the full information about how [Arafat] died and the reason, but I am totally convinced it was an abnormal and unusual cause of death, Sheikh said.

Somewhat strangely, Suha, who has called for exhumation of Arafat's body following report of radioactive poisoning, didn't allow an autopsy despite his Jordanian doctor calling for one.

Radioactive Poisoning

The tests carried out at the Institut de Radiophysique in Lausanne, Switzerland, have revealed that Arafat's personal belongings provided by his wife contained abnormally high amounts of a rare radioactive element called polonium.

I can confirm to you that we measured an unexplained, elevated amount of unsupported polonium-210 in the belongings of Mr. Arafat that contained stains of biological fluids, Dr. Francois Bochud, the director of the institute was quoted as saying by A-Jazeera.

The most well-known instance of polonium poisoning was its use in the killing of KGB agent-turned Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned in London in 2006 and died following a prolonged illness.

Litvinenko suddenly fell ill Nov. 1, 2006, and experienced similar symptoms of diarrhea and abdominal discomfort that Arafat reportedly showed soon after he had been poisoned. Doctors were unable to figure out the reason behind Litvinenko's illness, as in the case of Arafat. However, an autopsy performed on Litvinenko's body revealed radiation poisoning, which was not the case with Arafat.