Insight: Old assumptions questioned in Arafat's mysterious death

Insight: Old assumptions questioned in Arafat
# 23 November 2013 00:12 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA. President Yasser Arafat's spartan bedroom remains largely as he left it in 2004, when he flew off to France for treatment for a mystery illness only to return home two weeks later in a coffin, APA reports quoting Reuters.

More like a prison cell than the living quarters of an Arab leader, a single bed lies along one wall, a small fridge still contains some of his long-expired medicines and his old, khaki uniform, dotted with bright badges, hangs in a narrow wardrobe.

Giving an outsider a rare glimpse into a long-shuttered world, the door to the adjacent room is thrown open, revealing the wooden casket that brought his corpse back to Ramallah.

Arafat's body, wrapped in a Palestinian flag, was buried nine years ago, but conspiracy theories he was poisoned were never laid to rest, with accusations flying on all sides.

Should evidence emerge that Israel killed the Palestinian leader, a legacy of rancor could wreck the chances of peace for years to come. Proof that someone from Arafat's own inner circle did it could sweep away a generation of politicians who still hold sway in the occupied West Bank.

Like many Palestinians, Imad Abu Zaki, one of Arafat's closest bodyguards, has no doubt who did it. Neither, he says, did his boss, whom he calls reverentially the Rais (president).

"I remember one day the Rais said: 'They have got me'. He was talking about the Israelis," Abu Zaki said, recalling an enfeebled Arafat sitting on his sick bed and putting his hand to his chest.

Most Palestinians have long assumed that Israel murdered their national hero, anxious to be rid of a man they blamed for the collapse of peace talks in 2000 and a subsequent uprising that saw waves of suicide bombers wreak havoc in Israeli cities.

Revelations this month by a Swiss forensic lab that Arafat's bones contained unnaturally high amounts of rare, radioactive polonium, only fuelled their conviction.

But not everyone is pointing the finger in the same direction. Some people, like Arafat's widow Suha, have suggested her husband was killed by an insider.

"I'm sure it's someone in his close circle," Suha said, calling Arafat's death a "political assassination".

A series of interviews with Palestinian and Israel officials, who were all caught up in the events of 2004, shed more detailed light on an era of violence, intrigue and animosity that pitted Palestinians against Israelis, and against one another.