JERUSALEM – Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom on Thursday dismissed allegations that Israel killed Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (search) as "scandalous and false."
Shalom's comments were the first public statement by an Israeli official on rumors that have swirled through the Arab world since the 75-year-old Arafat was hospitalized in France on Oct. 29.
After Arafat died Thursday, Khaled Mashaal, top political leader of the militant group Hamas (search), accused Israel of poisoning him. "I hold Israel responsible for the crime of killing Abu Ammar," Mashaal told Al-Jazeera television, referring to Arafat by his nom de guerre. He offered no evidence. Islamic Jihad, another militant group, also claimed Israel killed Arafat.
Shalom angrily rejected the allegations at a news conference in Jerusalem, saying: "That's a scandalous and false allegation."
He said Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath (search) had publicly ruled out poisoning as a cause of Arafat's death, and noted that Israel allowed medical teams from Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia to examine Arafat before he was taken to France.
Demonstrators gathered outside Arafat's headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday, shouting, "We want to know the reason! We want to know the reason," referring to Arafat's death.
Arafat was admitted to a military hospital outside Paris on Oct. 29, but no diagnosis was revealed for his ailment. The absence of information raised questions over whether his doctors were unable to diagnose the illness or whether they declined to make it public.