'He was poisoned by a person who served him coffee or tea'

Decade-old testimony from PA probe into Arafat’s death leaked to Palestinian press

Outlets unveil accounts from top PA officials convinced of unproven claim that ex-leader was poisoned; source says leak aimed at settling scores amid Ramallah succession fight

PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, Sept. 10, 2004. (AP Photo/Palestinian Authority, Hussein Hussein)
PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, Sept. 10, 2004. (AP Photo/Palestinian Authority, Hussein Hussein)

Documents from the Palestinian Authority’s internal investigation into the death of former leader Yasser Arafat were leaked to Palestinian media this week, underscoring the extent to which senior officials in Ramallah are convinced he did not die of natural causes.

The leak came days before the Friday anniversary of Arafat’s 2004 death, though a source told the al-Araby al-Jadeed newspaper that the timing had more to do with the intensifying battle within the PA to succeed aging President Mahmoud Abbas.

The leaked documents revealed the chilly ties between Abbas and Arafat before the latter’s death.

PA security forces have launched an investigation into the identity of the leaker, Palestinian media reported.

The internal probe into Arafat’s death was launched in 2010 and led by Tawfik Tirawi, a senior official in Abbas and Arafat’s Fatah party.

The findings of the probe have never been published, however, with Tirawi saying that the testimony was kept classified to maintain the integrity of the investigation until the full truth was uncovered.

Many Palestinians accuse Israel of poisoning Arafat, a charge flatly denied by the Jewish state. Arafat’s family have brought their case before French courts and the European Court of Human Rights but it was dismissed due to lack of evidence.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah during a ceremony to mark the tenth anniversary of the death of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah on November 11, 2014. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

Among the 302 people summoned to testify in Tirwawi’s probe was now-PA Prime Minister Mahammad Shtayyeh, who told investigators that “anyone who serves Israel has an interest in killing Arafat and such people exist in the Palestinian arena,” according to the leaked documents.

Abbas’s now-spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeinah told Tirawi’s committee that “Arafat was poisoned by a person who served him coffee or tea.

“He did not protect himself from others and was used to trusting people. There were hundreds and maybe thousands who gave Arafat gifts and food,” he was quoted as having testified.

The head of Arafat’s security detail also testified that he believed Arafat was poisoned, recalling the latter’s meeting with a delegation of some 300 residents from the northern West Bank village of Salfit, after which he fell terminally ill.

Palestinian investigator Tawfik Tirawi speaks during a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Friday, Nov. 8, 2013. (photo credit: AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Tawfik Tirawi at a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Friday, November 8, 2013. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

The former speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Rawhi Fattuh, testified that after Arafat was transferred to France for emergency treatment in 2004, local doctors performed a test to determine if he was poisoned but were not able to identify anything in particular.

A Palestinian delegation that flew to France to visit Arafat requested to see the results of the test but never received them, fueling speculation that the PA leader was poisoned, Fattuh testified.

The documents also revealed testimony from an unnamed source who said that Arafat had reached out to Abbas in 2004 for assistance in lifting the IDF siege around his compound in Ramallah. Israel had accused Arafat of orchestrating the Second Intifada and only allowed him to leave the West Bank after his health deteriorated significantly.

Responding to Arafat’s request at the time, Abbas was quoted as having told him, “he who gets himself into problems will know how to get out of them.” The remark was interpreted as an expression of disapproval by Abbas of Arafat’s support for the Second Intifada.

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