PARIS – Freshly armed with Yasser Arafat's (search) weighty medical dossier, his nephew pinned blame on Israel for the late Palestinian leader's death and refused Monday to squelch rumors of poisoning — even though he acknowledged that doctors found no known poisons.
Nasser al-Kidwa (search), who is also the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, said the files are inconclusive on the cause of Arafat's death, but "I believe the Israeli authorities are largely responsible for what happened."
His accusation, at a Paris news conference two hours after French authorities gave him the files despite objections from Arafat's widow, could inflame suspicions among Palestinians that Israel was somehow to blame — if only by confining Arafat to his West Bank (search) headquarters for the last three years of his life, as Al-Kidwa asserted.
He said he had no doubts that Arafat's still undisclosed illness was "connected to the conditions that the late president was living and suffering from. ... This is a principle part of the issue."
The nephew acknowledged that he had not had time to read the 558-page file, plus X-rays, that he said would be provided to Palestinian leaders. They have promised to disclose the cause of Arafat's death and have formed an inquiry committee that includes doctors who treated him before he was flown to a Paris-area military hospital, where he died Nov. 11 at the age of 75.
Al-Kidwa said toxicology tests were conducted during Arafat's two-week stay in France but "no poisons known to doctors were found." He did not, however, categorically rule out poisoning — which again could fuel theories in the Middle East that Arafat was murdered.
"This possibility could not be excluded," he said. "We are not excluding that but we are not asserting that, because asserting that requires proof and we do not have the proof that suggests there was poison."
He promised that the Palestinian Authority (search) would study the file to try to determine a cause of death, but also cautioned patience.
"For the French authorities, medically, the file was considered closed. For us, and because of the lack of a clear diagnosis, a question mark remains and personally I believe that it will remain there for some time to come," al-Kidwa said.
"At some point the Palestinian people will know more facts. At some point the Palestinians will collectively reach a conclusion. At that point the matter will come to rest," he added.
French officials say judicial authorities here would have acted had they suspected wrongdoing — as far as officials can go, without violating medical privacy laws, toward saying that poisoning was not a cause.
Before his death, French doctors had disclosed that Arafat had a high white blood cell count as well as a low count of platelets, a substance that aids in blood clotting. The doctors also said leukemia had been ruled out and that he was in a coma. Palestinian officials said he had a brain hemorrhage shortly before he died.
That is consistent with a variety of illnesses from pneumonia to cancer. Arafat had been suffering from poor health for years before France flew him here Oct. 29 for treatment after his condition deteriorated.
Farouk Kaddoumi, the new head of the Palestine Liberation Organization's mainstream Fatah faction, repeated his belief that Arafat was poisoned. Speaking in Beirut, Kaddoumi said all symptoms, treatments and medical tests had eliminated all possible ailments he might have died from.
"Why, then, the low platelets count? There is no reason except poisoning," he said.
Al-Kidwa played down objections from Arafat's widow, Suha, about the French decision to give him the files.
"The Palestinian people have the right to know," he said.
Mrs. Arafat's lawyers had said in a statement late Sunday, before al-Kidwa got the dossier, that the Percy Military Training Hospital that treated her husband "would alone face the consequences" if it released the records to any other family members.