Israel denies Arafat murder plot

A former Israeli official has denied suspicions that the country poisoned Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as France began an investigation into his possible murder.

Dov Weisglass, chief of staff to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the time of Mr Arafat's death in 2004 and a key participant in deliberations surrounding his worsening health, said Israel had no reason to harm the Palestinian leader. For the last two years of Mr Arafat's life, Israel confined him to his headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah, accusing him of encouraging a violent Palestinian uprising at the time.

"Israel did not have any hand in this," Mr Weisglass said, even while calling him "one of Israel's worst enemies."

"We did not physically hurt him when Arafat was in his prime ... so all the more so we had no interest in this kind of activity when he was politically sidelined," he said.

Arafat, 75, died on November 11, 2004, in a French military hospital outside Paris of what doctors called a massive stroke.

According to French medical records, he had suffered inflammation, jaundice and a blood condition known as disseminated intravascular coagulation, or DIC.

But the records were inconclusive about what brought about the DIC, which has numerous causes including infections, colitis and liver disease.

The uncertainty sparked speculation about the cause of death, including the possibility of AIDS or poisoning. Many in the Arab world believe he was killed by Israel.

Mr Arafat's widow, Suha, filed a legal complaint in France -where she is a citizen - after a Swiss institute detected traces of a rare, lethal substance on objects belonging to the Palestinian leader.

Mr Arafat's successor, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, has given permission for the Swiss experts to exhume his remains and conduct an autopsy. Officials say they are still waiting for Mrs. Arafat to give the final go-ahead.