PARIS – Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died of cirrhosis of the liver, but French doctors were loath to say so because of a common public belief that the disease is the result of alcoholism, a French newspaper reported Wednesday.
The doctors, who weren’t named because they were violating French law by discussing Arafat’s case, described Arafat as “a true water drinker” and not an alcoholic, according to the paper, Le Canard Enchaine. The weekly, whose name means “the connected duck,” is well known for political satire and accurate investigations.
Allegations that Arafat was a heavy drinker – forbidden in Islam – would have clouded the mourning that began Nov. 11, when the 75-year-old died.
The report that Arafat was suffering from cirrhosis was bolstered by an article in another French newspaper, Le Monde, which said that Arafat had suffered from “intravascular coagulation,” a blood clotting condition that can be a sign of late-stage liver failure and can be consistent with cirrhosis.
Le Monde, citing “very good sources,” reported that doctors couldn’t make an indisputable diagnosis, however, since the blood abnormality “is not a disease as such, but the symptom of a pathology, which in a patient of his age is either of infectious origin or of cancerous origin.” Doctors found no evidence of cancer.
Cirrhosis is a scarring of the liver. Scarred cells can’t perform their functions, so a severely scarred liver stops filtering blood and producing the proteins the body needs to function.
The disease is frequently associated with alcoholism but has many other causes, including viral infections, inherited disorders, and, in Northern Africa, parasites. The doctors didn’t single out a cause.
“The causes of his death were many,” said one quoted by Le Canard. Another noted, “His living condition these past three years did not help matters.”
Until he was hospitalized, Arafat had been confined to a few rooms in a presidential compound in Ramallah since December 2001. He got little exercise and suffered frequent illnesses.
The news stories Wednesday were the first since Arafat’s death to quote doctors familiar with his care amid a rising clamor among Palestinian leaders for a better explanation of what killed him. Many Palestinians believe he might have been poisoned by Israel while some Israeli news reports have suggested that he had AIDS.
“To an uninformed public, cirrhosis means alcoholism,” said a doctor who Le Canard said had access to Arafat and his medical file during the nearly two weeks he spent in a military hospital in suburban Paris. “For that reason, it was not possible to mention it.”
The reports won’t satisfy Palestinian authorities. Hassan Abu Libdeh, the chief of staff for Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, said the Palestinian leadership wouldn’t accept second-hand reports. Qureia ordered an inquiry Wednesday into Arafat’s death, directing a commission to take testimony from Palestinian and other Arab doctors who treated him.