Medical files released for the first time on Thursday portray former Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat as a robust 75-year-old whose sudden health crisis, a month before his 2004 death, was initially blamed on viral gastroenteritis.
Last week, a broadcast by Arab satellite TV channel Al-Jazeera said it had conducted a nine-month investigation into Arafat's death after his widow, Suha, provided the station Arafat's medical file and what she said was a duffel bag of his belongings.
Included in the bag were a fur hat and a woolen cap with some of his hair, a toothbrush, and clothing with his urine and blood stains.
Switzerland's Institute of Radiation Physics detected elevated traces of polonium-210 — a rare and highly lethal substance — on the belongings, but said the findings were inconclusive and that Arafat's bones would have to be tested.
The Associated Press reported on Thursday that PA Justice Minister Ali Mohanna said that Arafat's nephew, Nasser al-Kidwa, asked for the full report on his uncle from the Swiss lab, and a decision on further testing would only be made after reviewing the report.
Meanwhile, the report said, Arafat's doctors for the first time released their detailed treatment notes covering the 18-day period when they cared for him at his compound in Ramallah before he was airlifted to a French military hospital on October 29, 2004.
Based on the doctors' report and later test results in France, Arafat had escaped many of the chronic afflictions, like diabetes, common in his age group. A non-smoker, he weighed 150 pounds. He was taking medication for chronic tremors whose cause was not explained further. They wrote that he suffered from a gallstone and had vitiligo, a loss of pigmentation of the skin.
Arafat's downward spiral began just before midnight on October 11, 2004. Two hours after a late supper, he vomited but had no other complaints, the report said.
His doctors diagnosed him with viral gastroenteritis. He improved with medication and went about his daily routine, and four days later even joined in the dawn-to-dusk fast of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
However, AP reported, there was persistent vomiting and diarrhea, and he began feeling weaker. His blood platelet count dropped, and on October 28, his medical team decided to send him abroad. The next morning, he was flown to France, where he died on November 11, 2004.
An Israeli specialist, Dr. Joseph Zimmerman, who reviewed the Ramallah medical file at the request of AP, told the news agency Arafat's early symptoms were not consistent with viral gastroenteritis.
“I don't think that this common garden-variety viral infection would progress to such an extent and result in a fatality,” said Zimmerman, a senior physician at Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem.
Zimmerman said poisoning seemed unlikely, even by a radioactive agent such as polonium-210. He pointed out that Arafat's platelet counts dropped suddenly and stayed low and that he eventually exhibited signs of liver dysfunction.
"This is not typical of poisoning," Zimmerman said, adding that a bacterial infection could have caused these symptoms.
French doctors said Arafat died of a massive stroke and suffered from a blood condition known as disseminated intravascular coagulation, or DIC.
At Thursday's news conference, one of Arafat's physicians, Dr. Abdullah Bashir, said he believes the available medical data points to poisoning, but would not elaborate.
Arafat’s widow said this week she plans to file a legal complaint in France asking authorities to investigate her husband's death.
Last week, Lebanon's Al-Miadin television broadcast a copy of a video tape in which an Arab prisoner from the Palestinian Authority claims he was recruited by Israel's security services to poison Arafat.
In the tape, and Arab prisoner says Israeli intelligence recruited him to assassinate Arafat for them.
However, Amir Rappaport of the Israel Defense website published an account of Arafat’s final days as told by Israeli officials. The account said that Israel allowed Arafat to be released from his Ramallah compound and be flown to France, where he received treatment for complications of leukemia.
While Arafat’s condition began to improve under French care, Israeli sources reported that French doctors then tried a dramatic procedure – a total blood transfusion, in which all of Arafat’s blood was replaced with donor blood. Arafat went into a coma during the procedure and never woke up. He died on November 2011, 2004, and was buried in Ramallah.