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Archive for Friday, November 19, 2004

Arafat’s diagnosis may be revealed

November 19, 2004

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— Nearly a week after his death, speculation still swirls around what killed Yasser Arafat. Cirrhosis of the liver, AIDS, a blood disorder and poisoning are frequently mentioned in unconfirmed reports -- all consistent with the little that is publicly known about the medical condition that landed the Palestinian leader in a French hospital.

However, the mystery may soon be resolved: The French say they will hand Arafat's records to Nasser al-Kidwa -- a relative, as required, but also the Palestinians' ambassador to the United Nations. Al-Kidwa is scheduled to fly to Paris today to collect the medical files.

"The full medical report of President Arafat is a historical document for the Palestinian people," Hassan Abu Libdeh, the Palestinian Cabinet secretary, said Thursday. "We will get the report and the Palestinian Authority will take the necessary decisions, including informing the Palestinian people about the full details of the report."

Officials in Paris insist French law prevents them from making Arafat's medical records public, and they have refused to announce the cause of his death Nov. 11 in a hospital outside Paris. What little information they did release in the days preceding the death, they prefaced by saying it was being disclosed with the consent of Arafat's family.

French law does not specify how closely related a family member must be to have access to medical information and it is unclear whether al-Kidwa knew all along what was wrong with his uncle. French officials said Thursday they have determined that al-Kidwa qualifies as a close enough relative to have access to the files. It was not clear whether Arafat's wife, Suha, agreed to the release or even whether her consent was required.

There is widespread opinion among Palestinians that their leader was poisoned by the Israelis. Arafat's Jordanian physician, Dr. Ashraf al-Kurdi, has called for an autopsy, citing poisoning as a possible cause of death.

However, al-Kidwa has said there was no evidence Israel poisoned Arafat and Palestinian officials who met with Arafat's French doctors before his death had said poisoning had been ruled out.

Israeli media reports have speculated that HIV infection might be involved, but medical experts say that is less likely than other possible diagnoses.

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