French try to quash rumours that Israeli agents killed Arafat

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The Independent Online

A French newspaper reported yesterday that Yasser Arafat had died of a complex blood disorder as the government moved to quash rumours spreading through the Middle East that the Palestinian leader had been poisoned by Israeli agents.

A French newspaper reported yesterday that Yasser Arafat had died of a complex blood disorder as the government moved to quash rumours spreading through the Middle East that the Palestinian leader had been poisoned by Israeli agents.

While refusing to open Mr Arafat's medical records - protected under French law - a government spokesman, Jean-François Copé, said that if there had been "the slightest doubt" about the causes of death, doctors would have demanded a criminal investigation.

The Palestinian leadership announced yesterday that a delegation would fly to Paris to seek details of the exact cause of Mr Arafat's death as the controversy mounted.

At the same time, the newspaper Le Monde, carried a detailed account, "from very good sources", of the cause of Mr Arafat's death in a military hospital west of Paris last week. Le Monde said Mr Arafat had definitely not died from poisoning, or from the effects of alcoholism or from a virus (such asHIV), all of which have been rumoured in parts of the Arab or Israeli press.

The newspaper said he died from a grave blood disorder called "scattered intravascular coagulation" - a catastrophic breakdown of the normal processes which allow the coagulation of the blood. However, in a patient of Mr Arafat's age, the disorder is normally caused by cancer or by a bacterial or viral infection. No sign of such a cause had been found.

Le Monde said doctors at the Percy hospital - where Mr Arafat was taken, already seriously ill, on 29 October - had found no trace of such a cause. "We worked intensively ... on the possibility that he had been poisoned before finally ruling it out," a French military source told Le Monde. M. Copé said: "Mr Arafat received the best possible care and all possible tests were carried out. If the doctors had had the slightest doubts, they would have called for a criminal investigation."

In response to calls from the Palestinian Authority and French newspapers for Mr Arafat's medical records to be made public, M. Copé said: "French law is very strict. Only members of his family have a right to this information. The government cannot infringe this law, which is rooted in our most fundamental freedoms."

The Palestinian delegation is expected to include Jawad al-Tibi, the Health Minister, as well as justice ministry officials, doctors and Muslim clerics. The office of Ahmad Qureia, the Palestinian Prime Minister, said in a statement: "The conditions surrounding the death of Yasser Arafat raises questions."

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