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Revisiting Yasir Arafat's 'Mysterious' Death

The reason it becomes fascinating to follow the trajectory of the world’s newest sleuth—I am referring here of course to Suha Arafat, widow of the late Palestinian leader—is because of Suha herself. Her husband died at age 75 from a massive stroke in a Parisian hospital. Or rather “allegedly” from a massive stroke—as the Los Angeles Times puts it. Also, he had a blood disease.

However, Suha and her daughter Zawra believe he died from radioactive poisoning, namely polonium 210, which is apparently the grim reaper of choice these days. Polonium 210 killed Putin critic Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 when he drank a cup of tea laced with the substance, and Suha and Zawra—and Al Jazeera, judging from the special it aired in July—want you to believe it also killed Arafat in 2004.

Well, maybe it did and maybe it didn’t. I’m no polonium expert. (In fact, however, sources briefed by Israeli intelligence used to claim, adamantly, that Arafat died from AIDS—I know because I received just such a tip from just such a source at the time of Arafat’s death, and I gave the allegation then about as much credence as I do the charges of the grieving widow now. Or the reports of Al Jazeera, for that matter. Show me the blood tests, and I’ll show them to an expert…).

But the most interesting part of the widow Arafat’s claim is her own quote: “I want the world to know the truth about the assassination of Yasir Arafat,” she told Al Jazeera.

The question is not simply the widow’s use of the word “assassination” (how can she be so sure?), but why Suha is so intrigued by the particulars of her husband’s death. It was an issue that interested her but faintly, actually not at all, when he died.

Prior to Arafat’s demise, the couple was famously … uncoupled; Suha preferring her well chronicled Parisian shopping trips to remaining by his side. It was only as death approached, that she ran to him. Arafat, ranked ninth at the time in the Forbes list of the world’s richest leaders, had a lot besides his legend to bequeath. And word at the time had it that Suha was locked in a furious battle with Mohammed Rashid, Arafat’s financial adviser, over who exactly got access to Palestinian Authority funds.

In fact, according to the Saudi newspaper Arab News, the Palestinian leader had control of between $4 billion and $6.5 billion at the time of his death, and Suha, whose monthly allowance from Arafat was estimated at between $50,000 and $100,000, demanded from a reluctant Rashid a list of all her dying husband’s bank accounts.

Interesting, no?

Rashid told her he would give that list only to the Palestinian Authority, since it wasn’t the widow’s to have.

In November 2004, while her husband was lying deeply comatose, Suha rejected a $2 million financial settlement from the Palestinian Authority—a proposed resolution that was, as the Israeli newspaper Haaretz pointed out, “aimed at persuading Suha Arafat to allow completion of the tests that would finally determine the chairman’s death.” For a time, she allowed no one into her husband sick room, which evidently exasperated French authorities.

Interesting, no?

Now the widow Arafat says she is devoting her life to finding out what she initially seemed hesitant to discover. She wants her late husband’s body exhumed. She wants “to remove a lot of the doubt” about what killed her husband. She is certain, dead certain you might say, that “Arab and Muslim generations all over the world” should know “it was not a natural death, it was a crime.”

Suha seems very sure of this.

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