PARIS (Reuters) - Yasser Arafat’s widow asked a French court on Tuesday to launch a murder probe into the death of the former Palestinian leader, after a report suggested he was poisoned by a radioactive element before his death in a Paris military hospital in 2004.
“My husband died in an odd way. There are signs leading one to believe he was poisoned,” Suha Arafat told Le Figaro daily.
Arafat was flown to France in October 2004 from his battered headquarters in Ramallah where he had been effectively confined by Israel for more than two and a half years, after a sudden collapse in his health.
He died a month later and allegations of foul play quickly circulated after the doctors who treated him said they could not establish a precise cause of death.
The lawsuit filed by Suha and Arafat’s 17-year-old daughter Zahwa in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre accused a person or persons unknown of premeditated murder.
“It is surprising that a sovereign country like France does not know the cause of death of a head of state, cared for in one of its own hospitals,” Suha Arafat told Le Figaro.
The legal complaint followed a Swiss institute’s discovery of surprisingly high levels of polonium-210 on Arafat’s clothing - the same substance used to kill former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.
Suha said her suspicions were raised when she contacted the hospital to retrieve blood and urine samples taken from her husband and was told they were destroyed four years ago.
“That puzzles me. Why did they destroy a part of the medical file?” she said. “Arafat was a head of state, he wasn’t just any old patient.”
The court will have to determine whether it has jurisdiction to investigate in France a case of alleged poisoning that took place in another country, a legal source told Reuters.
“Suha and Zahwa have complete faith in the French justice system,” read a statement released by their lawyer.
“Suha and Zahwa Arafat do not, at this stage, advance any accusation against a specific party, be it a state, a group or an individual.”
Many Arabs suspect Israel of being behind the decline of the man who led Palestinians’ bid for a state through years of war and peace.
The Palestinian Authority has agreed to exhume Arafat’s body from a limestone mausoleum in Ramallah for an autopsy and Tunisia has called for a ministerial meeting of the Arab League to discuss his death.
Earlier this month, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat’s successor, asked French President Francois Hollande to help form an international investigative group via the United Nations Security Council, Al Jazeera reported.
Arafat was confined by Israel to his compound after a Palestinian uprising and was already in poor health when he collapsed in October 2004.
Doctors flocked to his bedside from Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan amid public assurances from Arafat’s aides over the following two weeks that he was suffering from no more than influenza.
But looking weak and thin - and telling aides “God willing, I will be back” - he was airlifted to a military hospital in France, where he slipped into a coma and died on November 11.
Arafat aides at the time quoted doctors as saying he had suffered a brain hemorrhage and lost the use of his vital organs one by one.
French officials refused to state the cause of death, citing privacy laws. Arafat’s nephew Nasser al-Kidwa said a 558-page medical report issued by France had shown no trace of known poisons but that the cause of death remained a mystery.
Writing by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Robin Pomeroy