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Yasser Arafat killed by radiation poisoning?

An Al Jazeera report argues that's likely, sparking a renewed flurry of speculation about how the Palestinian leader died.

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Far-right Israelis quickly began circulating stories that Arafat was a closeted homosexual who'd probably died of AIDS, an assertion with no evidence to support it but well-designed to infuriate Arafat's supporters. That claim has endured in some quarters for years. The Times of Israel published a piece today written by Lenny Ben-David, a former senior Israeli diplomat, that repeats the assertion.

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Here are the indisputable facts: In late October 2004, Arafat fell deeply ill. After negotiations with the Israelis, he was transported to France for medical treatment. In early November of that year he fell into a coma and passed away at France's Percy military hospital on November 11. An in-depth autopsy was not carried out at the request of his estranged wife, Suha.

But French military doctors wrote a 500 page report on his passing that later leaked to the press that said they had tested for known poisons and found his death was from natural causes. 

But what really happened? It's impossible to say with certainty with the information currently available.

Certainly Suha's involvement will fuel the doubters. She's a polarizing figure among Palestinians for her lavish lifestyle and alleged corruption. She repeatedly alleged at the time of his illness that Palestinian political rivals of her husband were behind his illness. Other Palestinians blamed Israel's Mossad intelligence service, which has carried out assassinations around the world down the years.

The Associated Press reports that Francois Bochud, who heads the Institute of Radiation Physics in Lausanne that conducted the tests, said that Ms. Arafat, who was 27 years old when she married the 61-year-old Arafat in in 1990, told him she'd kept the clothing and other items tested at her lawyer's office in Paris until early this year, when she asked Al Jazeera to have the items tested on her behalf. Ms. Arafat lived mostly in Tunisia from 2004-2007 until she had a falling out with then Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's wife Leila Trabelsi. She's lived mostly in France and Malta since then.

Last year, Tunisian authorities issued an arrest warrant for Ms. Arafat, saying she was wanted in connection with the former first family's corruption. Arafat has denied any wrong-doing.

While the facts are still being determined, what's clear is that this is likely to pose the latest in a string of political headaches for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who's popularity has plummeted as Israel continues to expand West Bank settlements. The cautious, accommodating leader will not be enjoying renewed comparisons with Arafat, the charismatic revolutionary whose own corruption and failings have dimmed from popular memory in recent years.

And if solid evidence does emerge he was murdered, after a proper autopsy is done, then a storm could start to break. While it may prove hard, if not impossible, to find out exactly where the polonium came from Israel will be the first assumption of the Palestinian public and uncomfortable questions will be asked on how it made its way to Arafat, inside his Palestinian bunker.

Follow Dan Murphy on Twitter.


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