JERUSALEM (AFP) - A top aide to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on Thursday the premier had ordered that no harm be done to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
The comments came after Swiss scientists concluded Arafat had probably died from polonium poisoning, prompting Palestinian officials to call for an international inquiry into his "killing".
"Ariel Sharon insisted that everything be done to ensure that Arafat, who was at the time living inside his besieged Muqataa compound, was not killed by our soldiers," Mr Raanan Gissin told AFP, in reference to a 2002-2004 Israeli siege of the president's Ramallah headquarters.
"His instructions were to take every precaution to avoid Israel being accused of Arafat's death," said Mr Gissin, who served as Sharon's spokesman.
"Instead of launching baseless accusations against Israel, the Palestinians would be better to question those in Arafat's entourage who had an interest in his death and above all getting their hands on the money he controlled," he said.
A Palestinian official on Thursday suggested "a state" was responsible for Arafat's alleged poisoning, in an indirect reference to Israel.
Test results on Arafat's remains "proved Arafat was poisoned by polonium, and this substance is owned by states, not people, meaning that the crime was committed by a state", said Mr Wasel Abu Yusef, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's executive committee.
"Just as a committee was formed to investigate the killing of (slain Lebanese prime minister) Rafiq Hariri, there must be a international committee to investigate the killing of president Arafat," he told AFP.
Arafat died at a French military hospital near Paris in Nov 2004 at the age of 75, with experts unable to say what killed him, although many Palestinians believe he was poisoned by Israel.
Israel has repeatedly denied any involvement in the death.
On Wednesday, Israel's Foreign Ministry scoffed at the notion that Arafat had been poisoned, describing the matters as a long-running "soap opera" and suggesting the various investigations were not impartial.