OCCUPIED JERUSALEM - Amid Israeli denial of involvement in his demise, new suspicions that iconic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's death was caused by poison have triggered calls for a new autopsy to determine the cause of his death.
"I want the world to know the truth about the assassination of Yasser Arafat," his widow Suha Arafat, 48, told Al-Jazeera television.
A documentary by the Qatar-based television about Arafat's death has raised suspicions that the Palestinian leader might have been poisoned by radioactive plutonium.
A Swiss institute, which examined clothing provided by Arafat's widow for the documentary, said its radiation protection experts had found "surprisingly" high levels of polonium-210.Who Killed Yasser Arafat?
At high doses, polonium-210 causes damage to organs and tissues.
The same substance, apparently ingested with food, was used to kill a former Russian spy in London in 2006.
The revelations have sparked calls to exhume Arafat's body to determine the cause of his death.
"The [Palestinian] Authority, as it always has been, is ready to completely cooperate with and clear the way for an investigation into the true causes leading to the martyrdom of the late president," Nabil Abu Rdeineh, spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas, said.
Saeb Erekat, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said the exhumation could take place as soon as "religious and family procedures" were complete.
"If you ask me, it's a matter of days, not more than a few days," Erekat told Reuters.
"Then we will be in contact with the Swiss team or any other team that could come and exhume the body."
Confined by Israel to his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah for three years after a Palestinian uprising erupted, an ailing Arafat collapsed in October 2004.
Foreign doctors flocked to his bedside from Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan amid public assurances from Arafat's aides over the next two weeks that he was suffering from no more than the flu.
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, 2004.
At the time, rumors flew that he had died from anything from stomach cancer to poisoning to AIDS.
French doctors who treated Arafat in his final days said they could not establish the cause of death. French officials, citing privacy laws, refused to give details of the nature of his illness.
Israel was quick to distance itself from involvement in Arafat's death, calling on the Palestinians to investigate the claim.
"The body is in their hands. It is in Ramallah, and really, all the keys are in their hands," Avi Dichter, the head of the Shin Bet intelligence service at the time of Arafat's death, told Israel's Army Radio.
Israeli Army Radio said introducing polonium into food was the only way to kill someone with the poison and asked Dichter, whose agency had overall responsibility for monitoring the Palestinians, whether it would have been possible with Arafat.
"You're asking me as his cook?" he answered, laughing.
In 2004, then Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom rejected as "scandalous and false" the idea that Israel had a role in Arafat's death.
But Israel had earlier threatened Arafat, blaming him for the Palestinian uprising.
After losing 15 citizens to suicide bombings in September 2003, Israel's security cabinet decided to "remove" Arafat, without elaborating publicly on the precise action it planned to take.
An Israeli newspaper quoted Dichter as saying at the time that it would be better to kill Arafat than exile him.
However, Dichter insisted on Wednesday that Israel did not poison Arafat, who led the Palestinian struggle for statehood.
"No, we were focused on more serious things. Arafat's food did not interest us, Dichter said.
I think it interested those around him, in order, really, to keep his health up, as he was indeed known to be unwell. But the Shin Bet, or the State of Israel, were not involved in Yasser Arafat's food."
Pressed on the poisoning scenario, Dichter said: "Yasser Arafat had many enemies, domestically, abroad. But let them investigate.
The Palestinians know well how to investigate what goes on in their house. Let them investigate and find out," he said.
In 1997, Israeli assassins were caught trying to poison Hamas political chief Khaled Meshaal in Jordan.Israel is also suspected in the 2010 death in a Dubai hotel room of a Hamas commander, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who UAE authorities said had been drugged.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net