Yasser Arafat probably poisoned by polonium, Swiss review concludes
Swiss forensics examiners found sufficient traces of the deadly radioactive isotope polonium-210 in the exhumed remains of Yasser Arafat to conclude with relative certainty that the late Palestinian leader died of poisoning in 2004, Al Jazeera channel reported Wednesday.
The Qatar-based broadcaster said it had obtained exclusive access to the 108-page report of the University Center of Legal Medicine in Lausanne, which it posted on its website.
Examination of bone fragments, decomposed tissue and body fluids taken from Arafat’s remains at his West Bank tomb a year ago found at least 18 times the normal level of polonium, the Swiss scientists reported.
The Swiss team was one of three given forensic material for investigation after Arafat’s widow, Suha, gave Al Jazeera access to the late Palestinian leader’s personal effects and medical records in 2011 in hopes of determining his cause of death, the network said. Results of the other two probes, by Russian and French experts, have yet to be reported.
Arafat died Nov. 11, 2004, at 75, less than a month after suddenly falling ill with what doctors then thought to be influenza. But the vomiting, nausea and abdominal pain that he complained of are also symptoms of radiation poisoning -- a little-known hazard prior to its use to kill KGB defector Alexander Litvinenko in London in November 2006, Al Jazeera noted.
The network’s extensive report on the Swiss findings quoted renowned British forensic scientist Dave Barclay as saying he was “wholly convinced that Arafat was murdered.”
“Yasser Arafat died of polonium poisoning,” Barclay said he concluded from the Swiss findings. “We found the smoking gun that caused his death. What we don’t know is who’s holding the gun at the time.”
No cause of death was announced, nor was an autopsy performed, by doctors at the Percy Hospital in Paris, where Arafat was airlifted from Ramallah and spent his last days in a coma. While there were immediate suspicions of foul play voiced at the time of his death, it was only after the Litvinenko case came to light that pressure built for French judicial authorities to open a formal inquiry into whether the Palestine Liberation Organization founder might have been killed.
Arafat’s rivals for power within the fractious Palestinian communities and Israeli officials who branded the PLO leader a “terrorist” were among the chief suspects.
After disclosure of the Swiss findings, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor, anticipating accusations, told journalists in Jerusalem that the Israeli government had no hand in Arafat’s death.
“It has nothing to do with Israel,” Palmor said.
He said the investigation and its conclusion were “full of holes,” and pointed to the Swiss report’s equivocation in determining that there was only “moderate” evidence that the PLO leader was poisoned to death.
“This whole story is ludicrous and entirely without credibility,” the Israeli spokesman said, dismissing the Russian and Swiss investigations as having been commissioned by “interested parties.”
Suha Arafat, who was provided a copy of the forensics report at her home in Paris on Tuesday, reacted to the findings with renewed grief.
“When they came with the results, I’m mourning Yasser again,” Al Jazeera quoted the widow as saying. “It’s like you just told me he died.”
She also said it was too soon to “point a finger at anyone,” and that she would wait for the results of the French investigation before drawing any conclusions about who or what agency was behind her husband’s death.
Special correspondent Batsheva Sobelman in The Times’ Jerusalem bureau contributed to this report.
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