France opens murder inquiry into Arafat’s death

(JTA) — French prosecutors have opened a murder inquiry into the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Prosecutors announced Tuesday that they opened the inquiry. Arafat’s family had filed legal action in July asking French authorities to look into claims that he had been poisoned. Traces of radioactive polonium were found on Arafat’s belongings.

Polonium is a highly toxic substance that is rarely found outside military and scientific circles. It was used to kill former Russian spy turned Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, who died in 2006 shortly after drinking tea laced with the poison.

Arafat led the Palestine Liberation Organization for 35 years and became the first president of the Palestinian Authority in 1996. He fell violently ill in October 2004 and died two weeks later, at the age of 75, in a French military hospital.

The medical report published after Arafat’s death in a Paris hospital on Nov. 11, 2004 listed the immediate cause as a massive brain hemorrhage resulting from an infection. Doctors ruled out foul play; some have contended that Arafat died of AIDS.

Many Palestinians continue to believe that Arafat was poisoned by Israel because he was an obstacle to peace. Israel has denied any involvement.

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