x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Palestinian leader Arafat ‘was assassinated with polonium’, widow says

Suha Arafat says Swiss forensic tests on corpse of late PLO leader prove a political assassination, with polonium levels in bones and soft issues 'up to 20 times larger' than first thought.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, pictured in May 2002.  Lefteris Pitarakis / AP
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, pictured in May 2002. Lefteris Pitarakis / AP

PARIS // Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was poisoned to death in 2004 with radioactive polonium, his widow Suha said yesterday after receiving the results of Swiss forensic tests on her husband’s corpse.

“We are revealing a real crime, a political assassination,” she said in Paris.

A team of experts, including from Lausanne University Hospital’s Institute of Radiation Physics, opened Arafat’s grave in the West Bank city of Ramallah last November, and took samples from his body to seek evidence of alleged poisoning.

“This has confirmed all our doubts,” said Suha Arafat, who met members of the Swiss forensic team in Geneva on Tuesday. “It is scientifically proved that he didn’t die a natural death and we have scientific proof that this man was killed.”

A 108-page analysis of the investigators’ findings posted on the website of Al Jazeera’s television channel, which commissioned the report, said the results of tests on Arafat’s remains “moderately support the proposition that the death was the consequence of poisoning with polonium-210” .

“New toxicological and radio-toxicological investigations were performed, demonstrating unexpectedly high levels of polonium-210 and lead-210 activity in many of the analysed specimens,” said the report penned by 10 experts at the Vaudois University Hospital Centre (CHUV).

It added that polonium levels in “bones and soft tissues were up to 20 times larger” than hypothesised, firmly ruling out the possibility previously reported in some media that passive smoking had caused greater than normal polonium levels on Arafat’s personal effects.

The same radioactive substance was slipped into a cup of tea in a London hotel to kill defecting Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. From his deathbed, Litvinenko accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder.

A member of Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation yesterday accused Israel of being behind the his death.

“The publishing of the results by the Swiss institute confirms his poisoning by polonium and this means that Israel carried it out,” said Wasel Abu Yousef, a member of the PLO’s executive committee.

Arafat’s widow did not accuse any country or person, and acknowledged that he had many enemies.

Arafat signed the 1993 Oslo interim peace accords with Israel and led a subsequent uprising after the failure of talks in 2000 on a comprehensive agreement.

Allegations of foul play surfaced immediately. Arafat had foes among his own people, but many Palestinians pointed the finger at Israel, which had besieged him in his Ramallah headquarters for the final two-and-a-half years of his life.

The Israeli government has previously denied any role in his death, noting that Arafat was 75 years old and had an unhealthy lifestyle.

An investigation by Al Jazeera first reported last year that traces of polonium-210 were found on personal effects of Arafat given to his widow by the French military hospital where he died.

That led French prosecutors to open an investigation for suspected murder in August 2012 at the request of Suha Arafat. Forensic experts from Switzerland, Russia and France all took samples from his corpse for testing after the Palestinian Authority agreed to open his mausoleum.

The official Palestinian news agency Wafa said that a separate Russian team appointed by the Palestinian Authority handed in its report on November 2.

The French pathologists have not reported their conclusions publicly, nor have their findings been shared with Suha Arafat’s legal team

One of her lawyers said the Swiss institute’s report would be translated from English into French and handed over to the three magistrates in the Paris suburb of Nanterre who are investigating the case.

Arafat fell ill in October 2004, displaying symptoms of acute gastroenteritis with diarrhoea and vomiting. He was flown to Paris in a French government plane but fell into a coma shortly after his arrival at the Percy military hospital in the suburb of Clamart, where he died on November 11.

The official cause of death was a massive stroke but French doctors said at the time they were unable to determine the origin of his illness. No autopsy was carried out, in line with his widow’s request.

* Reuters and Agence France-Presse