Arafat's Kin May Make Medical Records Public

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Yasser Arafat's (search) nephew has as much right to the late Palestinian leader's widely sought medical records as his widow, a French Defense Ministry spokesman said Saturday, amid a family tug-of-war over whether to make the information public.

Arafat's widow, Suha (search), took possession of his medical records Friday and was deciding whether to release the information publicly to "stop all these false ideas" of what caused the Palestinian leader's death, her lawyer said.

Meanwhile, Palestinian leaders have dispatched an emissary -- Arafat's Nasser al-Kidwa, the Palestinian representative to the United Nations -- to Paris to pick up the records. The Palestinian leadership promised to make public the cause of Arafat's death once al-Kidwa secures the information.

"If he asks for the file we will give it to him," said Defense Ministry spokesman Jean-Francois Bureau. "He has as much right to the (records) as any family member."

Al-Kidwa, the nephew, was in Cairo (search) on Saturday visiting a sick family member. He told The Associated Press by telephone that he was sticking by his plans to come to Paris but did not know exactly when he would make the trip.

French officials insist the law prevents them from making Arafat's medical records public -- but they can give them to family members, who can then reveal information if they wish.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia told AP there was no doubt that Arafat's medical records would come to light.

"When we get this report, we will study it and hear the opinions of the doctors," Qureia said by telephone Friday, "and then we will inform the Palestinian people with all the details about the health situation of President Arafat and what led to his death."

The lawyers of Arafat's widow appeared to be preparing for a legal showdown, insisting that under French law, only Arafat's wife is entitled to the medical report because their 9-year-old daughter, Zahwa, is a minor.

"If the hospital made a copy -- I don't know if they did, they didn't tell me -- but in principle, it does not have the right to," one of Suha's lawyers, Jean-Marie Burguburu, said. "If it did, that would be against the law."

Burguburu declined to give any details about the content of the file, but said the Palestinian leader's widow was considering whether to release the information to the public. She obtained the file from the hospital in suburban Paris where Arafat was treated.

"The decision is in the process of being examined," he said. "The problem is, on the one hand, to try to stop all these false ideas about the death of President Arafat -- these rumors."

"Secondly, it's to make sure that there is not any abnormal exploitation of this medical file," Burguburu said.

French law does not specify how closely related a family member must be to have access to medical information.

Officials said Thursday they have determined that al-Kidwa qualifies as a close enough relative to have access to the files.

"The law obliges us to give the file to the family and after that they assume the responsibilities of what to do with it," the defense ministry spokesman reiterated Saturday.

Arafat, suffering from a mystery illness, was flown to Paris on Oct. 19 for medical treatment at Percy Military Training Hospital, in the southwestern Paris suburb of Clamart. He died on Nov. 11.