Arafat Poisoning Up in Air as French Scientist Disputes Finding

Image: Arafat Poisoning Up in Air as French Scientist Disputes Finding Yasser Arafat's widow, Suha Arafat gives a press conference in Paris on December 3, 2013

Thursday, 05 Dec 2013 08:03 AM

By Michael Mullins

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Yasser Arafat did not die from poisoning, according to French forensic scientists whose conclusion countered a Swiss report that found the former Palestinian leader had likely been killed by radioactive polonium.

The report, announced Wednesday, was immediately criticized by Arafat's widow, Suha Arafat, as well as a senior Palestinian official who dismissed it as "politicized," Reuters reported.

"You can imagine how much I am shaken by the contradictions between the findings of the best experts in Europe in this domain," a black-draped Suha Arafat told reporters at a news conference in Paris.

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"I am accusing no one. This is in the hands of justice and it is just the beginning," she added.

The widow then filed a legal complaint against the French report and requested that the Swiss report be made available to French magistrates examining the case. The French public prosecutor involved in that case confirmed the investigation would proceed, Reuters noted.

Upon examining both reports, a radiation scientist told Reuters that similar levels of Polonium 210 had been found in Arafat's body by both the Swiss and French; however the explanations as to how the hazardous material wound up inside the former Palestinian leader differed.

According to the French report, the Polonium 210 stemmed from radon gas that was present in the tomb where Arafat had been buried. In contrast, Swiss experts argued that radioactivity within Arafat's body had been responsible for the radon gas found in the tomb.

At the time of Arafat's death in France in November 2004, no autopsy was carried out by French doctors, who determined that the 75-year-old's death was caused by a massive heart attack.

Arafat's death came four weeks after he fell ill from a meal, which reportedly gave him stomach pains and caused him to vomit. Attending physicians however were unable to determine the origin of his illness.

In August 2012, French magistrates opened a murder inquiry into Arafat's death after a Swiss institute said it had discovered high levels of radioactive polonium on his clothing, which was supplied by his widow, Suha. His body was subsequently exhumed by French authorities.

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Having for decades led the Palestinians' bid for a state through years of war and peacemaking as head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Arafat was largely viewed as a thorn in Israel's side, leading many Palestinians to surmise that the Jewish state was responsible for his death.

Israel has consistently denied ever playing any role in Arafat's death.

There are few known cases of polonium poisoning, the most famous recent example being that of defecting Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who drank a poisoned cup of tea in a London hotel in November 2006, Reuters noted. Litvinenko died within weeks of being poisoned.

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