Report: Arafat likely poisoned with polonium

Many Palestinians believe Israel assassinated Arafat. This inconclusive report won't appease them

Topics: Arafat, Palestine, Israel, polonium poisoning, Assassination, GlobalPost, Middle East, ,

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

Global PostA Swiss forensic report released this week supports the claim that Yasser Arafat was poisoned by radioactive polonium-210, but stops short of proving it conclusively.

The findings are unlikely to resolve the persistent mystery of what — or who — killed the Palestinian leader in 2004 after weeks of illness.

“Can we exclude polonium as cause of death? The response is clearly no. Was polonium the cause of the death for certain? The answer is no,” said Francois Bochud, one of the scientists at Vaudois University Hospital Centre in Lausanne, Switzerland who examined Arafat’s remains.

The uncertainty is likely to feed the industry of conspiracy theorists that has thrived since Arafat’s death at age 75. For many Palestinians, the belief that Israel assassinated him is a virtual certainty — a charge Israel has denied.

In a press conference Friday morning in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian Authority investigators maintained that Israel “is the prime and only suspect in the case of Yasser Arafat’s assassination.” They vowed to continue a full investigation into “who is behind the liquidation of Yasser Arafat.”

Polonium-210 is a rare radioactive substance, toxic in high dosages but naturally present in the body in trace amounts.

More from GlobalPost: Polonium, HIV or ‘Palestinium’ — the real story of Yasser Arafat’s death

Suha Arafat, the leader’s widow, claims the results of the Swiss tests — which found Arafat’s remains contained levels of polonium 18 times higher than average — prove her husband was murdered, possibly by close associates.

The findings come as no surprise to Matthew Kalman, the co-author of an e-book published earlier this year, “The Murder of Yasser Arafat.”

You Might Also Like

Like Suha Arafat, who calls her husband’s death a “political assassination,” Kalman believes Arafat was poisoned by polonium.

Kalman says he and his co-author, Matt Rees, “approached the claim with a cynical mindset,” but were convinced of the poisoning by details from Palestinian members of an investigative commission that was abruptly disbanded in 2005.

“The polonium has to have been provided to the conspirators in Arafat’s close circle by a state player. We don’t know who. The fact is that Israel wanted for years to get rid of Arafat, however, it is highly unlikely that Israel would have murdered him at that point,” Kalman said.

Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman dismissed outright any possibility that Israel had a hand in ending Arafat’s life.

“It is impossible to take any of this seriously,” an exasperated Yigal Palmor told GlobalPost.

“It is not even pseudo-science. If Arafat had been killed by polonium, the entire area in which he was buried would have been affected. People working there would have been affected. It is a well-known site in the center of Ramallah. The environment in which he had lived would have been contaminated. How is it possible that now we find polonium, but the French hospital in which he died detected none at all?

“This is just a telenovela,” he finally said, using the Spanish term for “soap opera.”

Arafat died in a French military hospital outside Paris, to which he had been taken after falling ill at his home in the West Bank. Doctors at the hospital have consistently maintained that Arafat was not affected by radiation poisoning.

Late last year, Dr. Roland Masse, a physician at the hospital, told the Times of Israel that there was “absolutely no way” the Palestinian leader was poisoned.

The symptoms of polonium poisoning would have been “impossible to miss,” he said. Masse emphasized that Arafat had been tested for radiation poisoning before his death. “A lethal level of polonium simply cannot go unnoticed,” he added.

Arafat’s body was exhumed for testing at his widow’s request a year ago.

Asked how polonium would have been found in Arafat’s remains, Palmor, the Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, said, “I have no idea. I’m not a scientist or a detective or a conspiracy theorist. One thing we do know is that there are many questions about the chain of evidence.”

Author Kalman says Palestinian investigators he spoke with “would like to ask some tough questions of three men in particular: Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas; Tayyeb Abdul Rahim, the secretary general of the president’s office under both Arafat and Abbas; and Muhammad Dahlan, the Gaza security chief who became Abbas’s interior minister.”

From Switzerland, Bochud, the scientist, said only that the examination’s results “moderately support” the claim of polonium poisoning.

Suha Arafat interpreted the results — and the opinion of the Swiss experts — rather differently.

“When you ask [the Swiss scientists] the question directly, they will tell you, ‘Of course it’s a murder.’ There’s no other explanation,” she claimed in an interview with ABC News.

Polonium has a half-life of 138 days, meaning four months after death, half the amount of polonium in a sample would be detectable; after a year, only one-eighth. The time elapsed since Arafat’s death and what Swiss scientists called the samples’ confused “chain of custody” render conclusions highly uncertain.

Patrice Mangin, one of the scientists involved in the Swiss investigation, said Thursday he was sorry an autopsy had not been conducted at the time of Arafat’s death, nine years ago.

If it had, what would the conspiracy theorists have claimed instead?

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...