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 told Reuters 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.”
She did not accuse any country or person, and acknowledged that the historic leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation 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 denied any role in his death, noting that he was 75 years old and had an unhealthy lifestyle.
An investigation by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television news channel first reported last year that traces of polonium-210 were found on personal effects of Arafat given to his widow by the hospital where he died.
That led French prosecutors to open an investigation for suspected murder in Aug 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 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 report, commissioned by Al Jazeera, 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.
Professor David Barclay, a British forensic scientist retained by Al Jazeera to interpret the results of the Swiss tests, said the findings from Arafat’s body confirmed the earlier results from traces of bodily fluids on his underwear, toothbrush and clothing.
“In my opinion, it is absolutely certain that the cause of his illness was polonium poisoning,” Barclay told Reuters. “The levels present in him are sufficient to have caused death.
The same radioactive substance was slipped into a cup of tea in a London hotel to kill defecting Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Israel yesterday to limit settlement building in occupied territories to help push peace talks with the Palestinians back on track.
Faced with grim Israeli and Palestinian assessments of progress in the talks, Kerry also appeared to slap down Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and warmly endorsed Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s commitment to seeking a two-state solution.
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