Was Yasser Arafat poisoned? New turmoil over test results

Was Yasser Arafat poisoned? New turmoil over test results
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 2003, discussing the controversial Israeli "security" fence during a meeting with a French delegation in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Arafat died in 2004 after a sudden deterioration in his health. (JAMAL ARURI / AFP/Getty Images)

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Nearly a year after three international forensic institutions took samples of the remains of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, conflicting reports have resurfaced regarding the cause of his death.

Arafat died at a French military hospital outside Paris on Nov. 11, 2004, after a sudden deterioration in his health and was buried at his Ramallah headquarters. He was 75. In July 2012, the Qatar-based Al Jazeera news channel reported that a Swiss forensic lab had found traces of polonium, a highly radioactive and poisonous element, on Arafat's belongings.

The Swiss findings prompted calls for exhuming Arafat's body to do more tests on his remains. Last November, the Swiss scientists, along with teams from France and Russia, exhumed Arafat's body and took samples to their respective countries. The results were supposed to be published in April, then June, and finally September. But so far, nothing has been disclosed.

On Tuesday, Russia's Interfax news agency quoted Vladimir Uiba, head of the Russian agency that took the samples, as saying that no traces of polonium were found in the remains.


Shortly after, his agency issued a denial of its director's statements.

"We have not published any official results of our forensic review," a spokesman for the Federal Medical Biological Agency said.

The leading British medical journal, Lancet, said in an article last week that the Swiss scientists had  confirmed finding of traces of polonium on Arafat's belongings. However, the Swiss lab said the Lancet article did not add anything new to its findings from last year, which needed to be corroborated with tests on Arafat's actual remains.

The Palestinian Authority, which invited the three European teams to exhume Arafat’s body and take samples from his remains, would only say that no official announcement will be made on the results until all three teams submit them.

Tawfik Tirawi, who heads the Palestinian committee officially investigating Arafat's death, said last week that while the Swiss and Russians have completed their tests and submitted them to the Palestinian Authority, the French have not yet.

He told a Palestinian news website that his committee was waiting for the French to submit their results before an announcement was made, hinting at the possibility that the French are intentionally delaying.

Tirawi denied suggestions that the delay has anything to do with negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, insisting that "nothing is going to get in the way of the committee announcing the results once they are known."

He has accused Israel of poisoning Arafat, adding that if that turns out to be the case, the Palestinians will take the matter to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Israel has denied any role in Arafat's death.