Al Jazeera reports: French investigators have concluded in a report that Yasser Arafat died of natural causes and ruled out the possibility that he was poisoned, a source told Al Jazeera.
“The analysis cannot lead us to affirm that Arafat died of polonium 210 poisoning,” reads the report, according to the source, who has seen it. The report comes to the same conclusion the French reached in 2004 – that Arafat died of a brain hemorrhage and an intestinal infection.
According to the forensic report presented in Paris to Suha Arafat, the widow of the late Palestinian leader, and her lawyer, Saad Djabbar, French investigators found traces of the radioactive element polonium 210, but concluded that Arafat died of natural causes.
The French tests, conducted independently and in secret as part of a murder investigation, appear to contradict Swiss findings , which “moderately supported” the possibility that polonium 210 was the cause of Arafat’s death. [Continue reading...]
Reuters reports: An al Qaeda-linked group said three militants killed in the West Bank by Israeli forces last week were its members, and that their presence there showed that the Islamist network had taken root in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Al Qaeda has struggled to build up significant support in the West Bank, analysts say, and the Palestinian Authority that administers the area last week denied an Israeli report the men were linked to the organisation.
“By the will of God Almighty, the global jihadi doctrine has reached the bank of pride, the West Bank, planting its foothold after all attempts to thwart its presence,” said a statement posted by Majles Shura al-Mujahideen, or Holy Warriors’ Assembly, on an Islamist web forum.
The Telegraph reports: The horrific scars disfigure Mona Abu Mraleel’s otherwise strikingly beautiful face. Swathes of bandages cover the injuries the 17-year-old sustained to her arms and legs in a blaze from which she narrowly escaped with her life.
Still racked by pain from burns to 40 per cent of her body, she goes to hospital on a daily basis to have her dressings changed. Specialist doctors are preparing to carry out a delicate skin graft operation in the coming days.
Yet the hospital on which her recovery depends is woefully ill-fitted to the task – riddled by equipment failures, power cuts and shortages in a mounting crisis that doctors fear is leading to a “health catastrophe”.
Mona lives in Gaza, the impoverished Palestinian coastal enclave where chronic fuel shortages have led to electricity cuts of up to 18 hours a day and reduced ordinary life and public services to a standstill.
She is just one of many Gazans suffering in a rapidly worsening economic climate that this week prompted the British Foreign Office minister, Hugh Robertson, to demand urgent action to restore an adequate fuel supply to the territory. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: Raw sewage has flooded streets in a southern Gaza City neighborhood in recent days, threatening a health disaster, after a shortage of electricity and cheap diesel fuel from Egypt led the Hamas government to shut down Gaza’s lone power plant, causing a pump station to flood.
Three more sewage stations in Gaza City and 10 others elsewhere in the Gaza Strip are close to overflowing, sanitation officials here said, and 3.5 million cubic feet of raw sewage is seeping into the Mediterranean Sea daily. The sanitation department may soon no longer be able to pump drinking water to Gaza homes.
“Any day that passes without a solution has disastrous effects,” Farid Ashour, director of sanitation at the Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, said Tuesday in an interview. “We haven’t faced a situation as dangerous as this time.”
The sewage crisis is the most acute of an array of problems since the Islamist Hamas movement that governs Gaza shut down the power plant on Nov. 1. Four months earlier Egypt’s new military-backed government closed the smuggling tunnels that were used to transport around one million liters (about 260,000 gallons) of diesel here each day.
Hamas has refused to import Israeli diesel because of taxes imposed by the Palestinian Authority.
Having gotten used to years of scheduled blackouts, generally eight hours without electricity two of every three days, Gaza’s 1.7 million residents are now facing daily power failures of 12 or even 18 hours. [Continue reading...]
David Barclay writes: Polonium 210 is so toxic that it is difficult to explain just how dangerous it is – a fatal dose is almost a million times less than is needed for cyanide, for example.
Its danger comes from its high radioactivity. It decays by giving out alpha radiation and once Po210 is absorbed and is circulating in the body, it silently and fatally damages each individual cell. Half of any amount of Po210 decays in this way every 138 days.
It is impossible to physically see what would be a fatal amount of solid polonium, making it impossible for anyone to detect that they have been given the poison. Obviously, this also makes it remarkably easy to give to someone in a drink or food.
Strangely though, it is completely safe to handle, because alpha radiation is stopped by even a sheet of paper or by human skin. It can be carried around in a test tube for years without harming anyone, until it gets into someone’s blood stream.
I believe it did get into Yasser Arafat’s bloodstream and here is why. [Continue reading...]
Clayton Swisher writes: At a packed conference in Ramallah today, the retired general Tawfik Tirawi, once head of the Palestinian Authority’s feared West Bank intelligence, squarely pointed the finger at Israel for the assassination of Yasser Arafat. There are lots of reasons to suspect Israeli responsibility. The former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon was vocal over the years in admitting he had tried but failed to kill Arafat. Israel had famously botched its 1997 attempt to poison the political leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal. It appears logical for the PA – under Israeli military siege in the Muqata when Arafat suddenly became violently ill on 12 October 2004 – to claim Israel alone is to blame.
But there are many other possibilities that Tirawi prefers to ignore. He himself was with Arafat during the siege; he was wanted by Israel, the CIA was shunning him, and he was accused of orchestrating suicide attacks against Israelis. That he was in close proximity when Arafat fell ill makes him at best a witness. For him to lead the investigation now is almost as farcical as the PA’s entire approach to date. [Continue reading...]
The Washington Post reports: On the evening of Oct. 12, 2004, Yasser Arafat, the flamboyant, autocratic and inscrutable chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, sat down for dinner at his besieged compound in Ramallah in the West Bank. And so began one of the great medical mysteries in the modern Middle East.
A month later, Arafat was dead in a French hospital.
By natural causes? Or was it a murder most foul? Theories have swirled in the past nine years that Arafat was assassinated, perhaps poisoned — by rivals, by his inner circle, by Israeli agents.
On Wednesday, a final 108-page report by a team of Swiss experts revealed that tests on Arafat’s exhumed remains and possessions — a shaft of his hair, a urine stain on his underwear, a woolen cap — “moderately support the proposition that the death was the consequence of poisoning with polonium-210,” a highly radioactive substance 250,000 times as toxic as cyanide.
“This has confirmed all our doubts,” Arafat’s widow, Suha, told the Reuters news agency. “It is scientifically proved that he didn’t die a natural death, and we have scientific proof that this man was killed.”
Suha Arafat, speaking in Paris, called her husband’s death “a real crime, a political assassination.”
She did not name any suspects, but if her husband truly was killed, there would be many. He had myriad enemies — not least the Israeli government.
Jeffrey Goldberg, responding to Israel’s swift denial that it was responsible for Arafat’s death, writes: [T]he Israeli government should remember that it was the official policy of several past Israeli leaders to try to kill Arafat, who was the head of a terrorist organization that had murdered many Israeli civilians. I had several conversations on the subject of assassinating Arafat with his principal Israeli nemesis, Ariel Sharon, and today’s report sent me back to a profile I wrote of Sharon that appeared 12 years ago in the New Yorker. The profile was published just as Sharon was running, successfully, for prime minister. Here’s what I wrote directly on the subject of assassination:
Sharon was blunt on the subject of Arafat. “He’s a murderer and a liar,” he said. “He’s an enemy. He’s a bitter enemy.” Sharon has devoted a great deal of time and energy to Arafat. By Arafat’s own count, Sharon has tried to have him killed thirteen times. Sharon wouldn’t fix on a number, but he said the opportunity had arisen repeatedly. “All the governments of Israel for many years, Labor, Likud, all of them, made an effort — and I want to use a subtle word for the American reader — to remove him from our society. We never succeeded.”
In other conversations with me in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Sharon, who has been in a stroke-induced coma for more than seven years, did not resort to euphemism. Once, he described to me how Israel would have been better off had Arafat been killed by the Israeli army in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, an invasion that Sharon led. It was, he said, “a missed opportunity.”
Al Jazeera reports: Swiss scientists who conducted tests on samples taken from Yasser Arafat’s body have found at least 18 times the normal levels of radioactive polonium in his remains. The scientists said that they were confident up to an 83 percent level that the late Palestinian leader was poisoned with it, which they said “moderately supports” polonium as the cause of his death.
A 108-page report by the University Centre of Legal Medicine in Lausanne, which was obtained exclusively by Al Jazeera, found unnaturally high levels of polonium in Arafat’s ribs and pelvis, and in soil stained with his decaying organs.
The Swiss scientists, along with French and Russian teams, obtained the samples last November after his body was exhumed from a mausoleum in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.
Dave Barclay, a renowned UK forensic scientist and retired detective, told Al Jazeera that with these results he was wholly convinced that Arafat was murdered.
“Yasser Arafat died of polonium poisoning,” he said. “We found the smoking gun that caused his death. What we don’t know is who’s holding the gun at the time.” [Continue reading...]
Paul Mutter wrotes: Youth organizer turned leg-breaker, charity worker turned embezzler, and nationalist propagandist turned bargaining chip for foreign aid donors.
All three of these descriptions fit just one person: Mohammad Dahlan.
As we enter another round of “did they resign or didn’t they?” for the Palestinian negotiating team led by Saeb Erekat, for sheer chutzpah, this has to take the cake: Daoud Kattab reports that Dahlan, formerly Fatah’s enforcer-in-chief in Gaza (emphasis on “former” – more on that below) may yet return to the fold of the party that he was expelled from in 2010.
Reportedly, his reintegration into Fatah is being accomplished by the promise of Emirati foreign assistance to the PNA: Dahlan’s exile saw him take up an advisory position to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, and this is his vehicle for returning to political life in the Territories, not unlike how American aid was his vehicle for the abortive 2007 operation to disarm Hamas before it could consolidate military control over the strip.
Absent from this account of Dahlan’s coming in from the cold, though, is one important detail about Dahlan’s career, perhaps the most important one. In the institutionalization of internal Palestinian political violence, Dahlan has a strong claim to be first among equals for his actions in Gaza after Oslo. But he is the former enforcer-in-chief in Gaza precisely because his attempt to force a confrontation with Hamas after it won the 2006 elections there backfired. Even though his efforts were backed by the US, Fatah’s paramilitaries and party officials were unable to implement their plan properly, and Hamas took the initiative, meting out violence to Fatah and the Palestinian Authority’s Preventive Security Service (PSS) equal to that inflicted upon their own cadres by Dahlan’s forces. [Continue reading...]
AFP reports: Swiss radiation experts have confirmed they found traces of polonium on clothing used by Yasser Arafat which “support the possibility” the veteran Palestinian leader was poisoned.
In a report published by The Lancet at the weekend, the team provide scientific details to media statements made in 2012 that they had found polonium on Arafat’s belongings.
Arafat died in France on November 11 2004 at the age of 75, but doctors were unable to specify the cause of death. No autopsy was carried out at the time, in line with his widow’s request.
His remains were exhumed in November 2012 and samples taken, partly to investigate whether he had been poisoned — a suspicion that grew after the assassination of Russian ex-spy and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.
That investigation is ongoing, conducted separately by teams in France, Switzerland and Russia.
In the Lancet report, eight scientists working at the Institute of Radiation Physics and University Centre of Legal Medicine in Lausanne said they had carried out radiological tests on 75 samples. [Continue reading...]
Khaled Abu Toameh writes: Until recently, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank used to arrest Palestinians who criticized its leaders, especially Mahmoud Abbas.
But now the Palestinian Authority has resumed using thugs to break the bones of its critics.
It is an easy and quick way to deal with the critics and deter others from speaking out against Palestinian Authority leaders.
The thugs are often members of Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction. However, they do not hold any official position in the Palestinian Authority; they do not belong to Palestinian Authority security forces or any government-related agency in the West Bank.
This allows the Palestinian Authority to distance itself from the thugs each time they perpetrate a crime.
But the thugs, who are referred to by Palestinians as “Shabbiha,” are known to act on instructions from top Palestinian Authority leaders. [Continue reading...]
Vivian Bercovici writes: Palestinian Facebook pranksters are doing prison time for lampooning Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas online.
At the end of March, a West Bank appeal court upheld a one-year sentence for a man alleged to have defamed Abbas by posting his photo online next to that of a TV villain who had collaborated with French colonial rule.
The Times of Israel reported that the convicted man denied posting the photos. Furthermore, he claimed to have been detained without legal counsel for 20 days and interrogated for 53. Following his lost appeal, Abbas pardoned the man, a small gesture after he’d been churned in the justice system for two years.
The previous month, a 26-year-old PA resident was sentenced to a year in prison for posting a photograph of Abbas kicking a soccer ball with a silly caption: “Real Madrid’s New Striker.”
The charge against him? “Extending [his] tongue” against the king; defamation, more colloquially. “King Abbas,” it seems, invoked a Jordanian law from the early 1960s that was intended, according to David Keyes, executive director of the New York-based NGO Advancing Human Rights, to punish critics of Jordan’s monarchy when it ruled the West Bank. [Continue reading...]
Matthew Duss writes: Since becoming secretary of State, indeed even during his confirmation hearings, John Kerry has made it clear that he places high priority on achieving a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and has spent the first months of his tenure exploring the possibilities for a reinvigorated peace process, stalled for the last three years.
Speaking Tuesday at a press conference at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, during his third visit to Israel-Palestine in as many weeks, Secretary Kerry confirmed that initiatives aimed at building the Palestinian economy would be a key component of the effort to restart peace talks.
“We are going to engage in new efforts, very specific efforts,” Kerry said, “to promote economic development and to remove some of the bottlenecks and barriers that exist with respect to commerce in the West Bank.” Economic growth, Kerry continued, “will help us be able to provide a climate, if you will, an atmosphere, within which people have greater confidence about moving forward.”
If you think this sounds familiar, you’re right. It’s the approach taken by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad over the past several years. He attempted to reform and develop the Palestinian economy, with a particular focus on greater transparency and accountability, in order create a sense of momentum among Palestinians toward statehood. In one of the surest signs of the Western intelligentsia’s blessing, the doctrine was endowed by The New York Times’ Tom Friedman with its own special title: “Fayyadism … the simple but all-too-rare notion that an Arab leader’s legitimacy should be based not on slogans or rejectionism or personality cults or security services, but on delivering transparent, accountable administration and services.”
Four years later, Fayyadism has foundered on the reality that economic development—genuine, sustainable economic development—is all but impossible amid the conditions of a hostile military occupation that the West Bank continues to experience under Israeli rule. [Continue reading...]
Nadia Hijab writes: The dust is settling after US President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel, the occupied Palestinian territory and Jordan, and it is now easier to see the extent of the debris he has left behind. It is perhaps at the geopolitical level that Obama has done the most damage – and that to the weakest party, the Palestinian authority, he met. The surprise reconciliation he engineered between Israel and Turkey has reversed the only regional realignment in the Palestinians’ favour for years.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan clearly hopes to soften the blow of restoring normal relations with Israel, badly damaged after Israel’s lethal attack on the Mavi Marmara, by promising a solidarity visit to Gaza. Erdogan is also claiming, in the face of repeated Israeli denials, that he has secured an end to the siege of Gaza.
However, the fact remains that Turkey, Israel and the US have all made concrete political and economic gains while Palestinians gained some empty gestures. [Continue reading...]