A Palestinian investigation committee said Friday that Israel is the prime suspect in the 2004 death of Yasser Arafat.
Tawfiq Tirawi, intelligence chief at the time of Arafat's death and now head of the Palestinian committee, stated that the basic goal of the investigation was to arrive at a clear answer as to the circumstances of Arafat’s death.
"We consider Israel the first, fundamental and only suspect in Yasser Arafat's assassination," Tirawi said, and brushed off as "rumors" speculation by some Palestinians that members of Arafat's entourage killed him, saying his committee deals only in facts and evidence.
Tirawi added that they would continue with a thorough investigation in order to expose all the facts. He said that all their information and testimonies were drawing them near to a validation of their assessments.
"He did not die of old age and not of an illness," said commission head Tawfik Tirawi said when asked whether former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon or former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz were responsible for the assassination.
According to Tirawi, both Sharon and Mofaz are suspects along with all of Israel’s political and military leaders at the time. He added that the circle of suspects was slowly getting tighter and tighter and that the Palestinian leadership would spare no effort to get to the whole truth in order to bring the suspects to justice, whether in a local trial or an international one.
Palestinian Justice Minister Ali Muhanna stated that there was a need for an undertaking of additional measures in order to prepare an infrastructure of evidence to bring the suspects to justice, especially when the suspect is a country like Israel.
Arafat, a guerrilla leader who became the Palestinians' first president affectionately known by the nom de guerre Abu Ammar, contracted a sudden and mysterious illness while surrounded by Israeli tanks in his compound in Ramallah.
Palestinians have long accused Israel of poisoning Arafat, who died in a French military hospital outside of Paris at age 75. Israel denies the charge - but a local investigation committee has made little tangible progress in explaining the case.
"Palestinians should stop leveling all these groundless accusations without the slightest proof because enough is enough. We have strictly nothing to do with this and that is all there is to it," Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told Reuters.
On Thursday, Energy Minister Silvan Shalom vehemently denied Israel was to blame for Arafat's death. "We never made a decision to harm him physically," Shalom, who in 2004 served as foreign minister and as a member of Israel's security cabinet, told Israel Radio.
At the press conference, Palestinian investigators discussed the findings of a Russian report, which, they said, shows that insufficient evidence exists to support the theory that Arafat died by polonium poisoning.
The findings were far weaker than those of a Swiss laboratory announced with fanfare on Wednesday by Arafat's widow and Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television.
Palestinians remained unfazed by the results - which dampen but don't definitely disprove the possibility of death by poisoning - and officials continue to blame arch foe Israel.
Samples were extracted from Arafat's corpse last November by Swiss, French and Russian experts after an Al-Jazeera documentary revealed unusually high amounts of the deadly Polonium isotope on his clothes.
"The outcome of the comprehensive report on the levels of Polonium-210 and the development of his illness does not give sufficient evidence to support the decision that Polonium-210 caused acute radiation syndrome leading to death," said Dr. Abdullah Bashir, quoting the conclusions of the Russian report.
But Dr. Bashir, a Palestinian physician from Jordan, who was also one of Arafat's doctors, said that both the Swiss and Russian reports found "large amounts" of the radioactive isotope in his remains, but emphasized that neither team could determine with any degree of certainty which drug was used to poison him.
The Russian findings were significantly more cautious than Swiss conclusions which said that its tests "moderately support the proposition that the death was the consequence of poisoning with Polonium-210", though the evidence was not conclusive.
Dr. Bashir added, however, that the two reports did establish that Arafat's death was not due to natural causes but the late PA president was in fact murdered.
Arafat's widow, not mentioning Israel at all, explicitly accused members of his "close circle" in a Reuters interview.
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