Suha Arafat said on Thursday that next week’s exhumation of the body of her husband, the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, was “very painful” but also necessary because of suspicions Israel poisoned him.
“It is very painful. It is a shock, and it is not easy for myself or my daughter,” Arafat told AFP. “But if you must know the truth, it is necessary for our people, for the families of the martyrs of Gaza,” she said in apparent reference to the Palestinians who were killed by Israeli airstrikes during the IDF’s Operation Pillar of Defense.
“We must do it to turn the page on the great secrecy surrounding his death,” Suha added in an interview with AFP. “If there was a crime, it must be solved.”
Many Palestinians believe that Israel had a hand in the 2004 death of Yasser Arafat at the Percy military hospital in a suburb of Paris at the age of 75.
Arafat was reported by his doctors in Ramallah to be suffering from flu in late October 2004, and was treated by a team of Palestinian, Egyptian, Jordanian and Tunisian doctors for what were then described as symptoms of “anorexia, nausea and nasal congestion.” His condition deteriorated, and he was helicoptered to Jordan and then taken by French government jet to France and admitted to Percy.
In July, al-Jazeera claimed that tests carried out by the Institute of Radiation Physics at the University of Lausanne had found traces of polonium on Arafat’s belongings in quantities much higher than could occur naturally. A spokesman for the institute, however, said “conclusions could not be drawn as to whether the Palestinian leader was poisoned or not.”
However, a leading French doctor who teaches at Percy told The Times of Israel that, based on Arafat’s medical report, there is “absolutely no way” the Palestinian leader was poisoned.
Dr. Roland Masse, a member of the prestigious Académie de Médecine, said the symptoms of polonium poisoning would have been “impossible to miss,” noting that Percy had tested Arafat for radiation poisoning, and revealed that the hospital specializes in the related field of radiation detection. “A lethal level of polonium simply cannot go unnoticed,” he clarified.
Masse elaborated: “When in contact with high levels of polonium, the body suffers from acute radiation, which translates into a state of anemia and a severe decrease in white blood cells. And yet Arafat did not present any of those symptoms. What did decrease was his platelets, not his white blood cells.”
The Palestinians launched preliminary work on opening Arafat’s grave last week; the exhumation will begin on Monday in the presence of French and other foreign experts.
While his widow insisted that the procedure was in no way “degrading,” the former PLO leader’s nephew Nasser al-Qidwa told AFP he found the whole process disturbing and akin to a “desecration.”
“No good can come out of this at all,” Qidwa said in an interview. “It does no good to the Palestinians.”
Qidwa argued that most Palestinians already believed that Arafat had been poisoned and did not require any further proof.
Anica Pommeray contributed to this report