JERUSALEM – A massive stroke caused by an infection killed longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (search) last year, though it remains unclear what led to the rapid deterioration in his health, according to French medical records kept secret since his death in November.
The records from the military hospital outside Paris where Arafat died, which were obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, offered the first independent glimpse intom.
Yet the report did nothing to clarify the nature of the infection that caused the 75-year-old leader's stroke. The medical dossier initially was obtained by the New York Times and two Israeli media outlets, which conducted separate reviews of the information, resulting in different explanations for the cause of the stroke and deepening the puzzle.
"The mystery around Yasser Arafat will only grow bigger and bigger after reading this report," said Avi Isacharoff, the Israel Radio reporter who obtained the medical records with the Israeli daily Haaretz. He shared the contents of the dossier with AP.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser al-Kidwa (search), an Arafat nephew and one of the few people who had access to the leader and his French doctors, also said the revealed reports shed no new light and the cause of death remains unknown.
Arafat fell ill in his compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah — where he had been confined by the Israelis for three years — a month before he died. He spent his last two weeks at the Percy Military Training Hospital in Clamart, France.
Arafat's wife, Suha, and Palestinian officials have never given a definitive cause of death and kept Arafat's medical records a closely guarded secret. Mrs. Arafat also rejected calls for an autopsy.
The Israeli reporters got the records from an unidentified senior Palestinian official, then shared the information with the Times, which conducted its own review. Israeli and American medical experts were consulted.
According to the French report, Arafat suffered a digestive ailment about 30 days before his death. He also had an "acute" case of a blood disorder, disseminated intravascular coagulation, or D.I.C. The report was signed by Bruno Pats, a senior doctor at the hospital.
The Times reported that Arafat's stroke was caused by D.I.C. stemming from an unidentified infection, though it rejected AIDS or poisoning. The newspaper cited an unidentified Israeli infectious-diseases expert as criticizing the French medical team for not testing for AIDS. But the expert said after studying the records, AIDS was unlikely due to the sudden onset of an intestinal illness.
The Haaretz report, however, quoted Dr. Gil Lugassi (search), president of the Israel Hematologists Association, as saying the symptoms described could be typical of AIDS.
"What is simply unacceptable and seems very perplexing is the absolute disregard for the possibility of AIDS," Lugassi, one of the doctors to review the records, was quoted as saying. Contacted by AP, Lugassi declined to comment.
Dr. Ashraf al-Kurdi, Arafat's personal physician, asserted that Arafat had the AIDS virus in his blood. "It was given to him to cover up the poison," he told AP.
Al-Kurdi, however, did not say where the AIDS virus or poison had come from. He did not join the French doctors and would not say whether he had seen their records.
Israeli officials reject accusations of poisoning from senior Palestinians, and the Times review said poisoning was highly unlikely. It noted that toxicology reports conducted by the French doctors were negative.
The French doctors said Arafat did not suffer the extensive kidney and liver damage they would expect from poisoning, the Times reported. It said that Arafat's condition improved in the hospital and that he was able to walk and talk before slipping into a coma on Nov. 3. Such an improvement would make poisoning unlikely.
Al-Kidwa reiterated that Arafat died from massive organ failure following a brain hemorrhage. He told AP that doctors had ruled out cancer and poisoning, and that a Palestinian medical committee was still investigating the 558-page French report.
"We are waiting for the results. Any other thing will be just speculation, and we don't think it's wise to speak about speculation," he said.
A senior Palestinian official, Saeb Erekat, suggested Arafat's family ask the French doctors to publicize the records and "put an end to all these allegations and rumors."
The biggest unknown was the nature of an infection that appears to have led to the blood disorder D.I.C., which was never controlled and led to his death. The Times medical experts, like the French doctors, could not determine where in Arafat's bowel the infection was located and what microbes caused it. It said one possibility might have been food contamination.
Arafat became ill with nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea after eating dinner in his compound last Oct. 12. The symptoms continued for more than two weeks before he was evacuated to France. He died Nov. 11.