BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli officials on Friday reiterated claims that late President Yasser Arafat died from AIDS, as a probe into suspected poisoning of the Palestinian leader got underway.
Arafat led the bid for a Palestinian state through years of war and peacemaking, then died in a French hospital aged 75 after a short, mysterious illness in 2004.
No autopsy was carried out at the time, at the request of his wife Suha, and French doctors who treated him said they were unable to determine the cause of death.
But allegations of foul play surfaced immediately, and many Palestinians pointed the finger at Israel, which confined Arafat to his headquarters in Ramallah for the final two and a half years of his life after a Palestinian uprising erupted.
His body was exhumed in November and samples taken by Russian, Swiss and French experts for investigation. The results are expected in spring 2013.
Yossi Kuperwasser, director-general of Israel's ministry of strategic affairs and a former military intelligence officer, told Maariv newspaper on Friday that he believes Arafat became infected with HIV when his plane crashed in the Libyan desert.
Israeli experts were cited in the country's press after Arafat's death saying his death was likely from AIDS or food poisoning. Palestinians, citing several assassination attempts by Israeli intelligence of Palestinian leaders using poisoning, including Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal, insist Israel is responsible.
Israeli minister Avi Dichter told the Maariv newspaper that the blame for Arafat's death lies with Hamas "because Hamas and other Palestinian factions were interested in the murder of Arafat."
Palestinian officials have threatened that if the current probe points to assassination, the Palestinian Authority will start legal proceedings against Israel at the International Criminal Court.