Yasser Arafat’s widow first cried murder as her husband lay dying in 2004. Nine years later, she has raised her voice once more, accusing someone from the Palestinian leader’s inner circle of poisoning him.
The allegation, fuelled by the findings of Swiss forensic experts, has been met by stony silence from Arafat’s political heirs, who have long maintained that Israel was responsible for the illness that killed the Palestinian president.
Suha Arafat’s charge, broadcast around the Arab world, has reawakened controversies in the Palestinian Authority, which always viewed his widow – a French-educated Christian convert to Islam who was 34 years his junior – as a liability.
“Nobody should enter into accusations of this kind. He’s the leader of the Palestinian people. We shouldn’t differ on these issues. It’s a disaster for our national cause,” said Abbas Zaki, a senior member of the Fatah party Arafat led.
Suha, operating in tandem with the Qatar-based Al Jazeera news channel, on Wednesday released a report by a team of Swiss scientists that showed an unusually high level of radioactive polonium-210 in bone samples taken from Mr Arafat’s remains.
“You don’t accidentally or voluntarily absorb a source of polonium – it’s not something that appears in the environment like that,” said Patrice Mangin, director of the Lausanne University Hospital’s forensics centre. He said he could not say unequivocally what killed Mr Arafat – the biological samples obtained just last year were far too degraded.
“I’m sure it’s someone in his close circle,” Suha said, calling Mr Arafat’s death a “political assassination”.
Speaking in Qatar after a tearful appearance on Al Jazeera, she said: “The expert said that the poison was put in his tea, or coffee or water, so it must have been someone close to him.”
She acknowledged in subsequent interviews that the polonium must have come from a country with nuclear capabilities. She did not name Israel, although many other Palestinians were quick to point the finger at their long-time foe.
“The one who had an interest in his death was the occupation [Israel],” Wasel Abu Yousef, a senior member of Mr Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation, said yesterday.
Israel denied the suggestion.
Mr Arafat spent the last months of his life in a battle-scarred compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, surrounded by Israeli tanks. Inside the building, a core group of aides took care of their leader’s every need.
The report by Lausanne University Hospital’s Institute of Radiation Physics said that Mr Arafat fell violently ill some four hours after a meal on 12 October, 2004.
He never recovered, dying a month later in a Paris hospital aged 75.
Suha rushed to his bedside. She had not seen him in more than three years, having fled the Palestinian Territories with their young daughter after the outbreak of an uprising against the Israeli occupation in 2000.
Since his death, Suha has lived between Malta, Paris and the Gulf. Rumours abounded that she received a Palestinian Authority payout to retire to the shadows. Some suggest she is receiving handsome payments from Al Jazeera – a channel that has regularly angered the authority.
“I wouldn’t put anything past Al Jazeera, and it’s all turned into a bit of a movie,” commented Mr Zaki.