PARIS – Yasser Arafat’s French medical records won’t be released to the Palestinian Authority, despite a plea from leaders that the records would help quell rumors and fears that the longtime leader was poisoned.

Speaking Tuesday on French radio, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said French law was simple and straightforward and that Arafat’s medical files wouldn’t be published.

“The medical files of Yasser Arafat will be handed over, conforming to the laws and rules, to members of the immediate family who ask for them,” Barnier said. When asked if French officials would pressure Suha Arafat, the widow, to release the records, he said, “The family of Yasser Arafat has the right to do as it wishes.”

Earlier Tuesday, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia told The Associated Press that he had sent a letter officially requesting the release of Arafat’s medical files.

“He is one of the region’s main leaders, and therefore I think we should know what happened,” he said from his office outside Jerusalem.

The cause of Arafat’s death remains a mystery to the public and to the Palestinian Authority, leading to rumors that Israel poisoned him, an allegation Israeli officials deny.

Arafat’s longtime physician, Ashraf al Kurdi, has called for an autopsy because of the poisoning rumors and because, he told Knight Ridder, “I am very disappointed in their care for him, and I cannot understand this lack of an explanation for his death.”

After Arafat’s highly emotional burial in Ramallah, an autopsy seems unlikely. But medical records compiled in France might shed some light on the cause of death. All that’s known is that the doctors thought Arafat’s health slipped because of a cascade of factors, including his age, 75 at death, and the unhealthy conditions he’d been living in for the past three years while under virtual house arrest in the ruined presidential compound in Ramallah.

Doctors reached in Paris insisted that French law strictly forbids the release of information to anyone but immediate family and that violating the law could result in the suspension of a medical license.

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