Yasser Arafat ‘was not killed by polonium poisoning’
Yasser Arafat was not the victim of poisoning, French forensic scientists concluded on Tuesday, countering a Swiss report on the death in 2004 of the Palestinian Liberation Organization leader that found he was probably killed with radioactive polonium.
The French conclusions were immediately challenged by his widow, Suha Arafat, who has argued that the death was a political assassination by someone close to her husband. A senior Palestinian official dismissed the report as “politicized”.
“You can imagine how much I am shaken by the contradictions between the findings of the best experts in Europe in this domain,” Suha Arafat, dressed in black and reading from a written statement, said at a news conference in Paris.
“I am accusing no one. This is in the hands of justice and it is just the beginning,” she said, requesting that the Swiss report be made available to French magistrates examining the case following a legal complaint she filed.
Separately, the French public prosecutor involved in that case confirmed that the investigation will continue.
Arafat, who signed the 1993 Oslo interim peace accords with Israel but then led an uprising after subsequent talks broke down in 2000, died aged 75 in a French hospital in November 2004. His death came four weeks after he fell ill after a meal, experiencing vomiting and stomach pains.
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.
Swiss forensic experts stirred controversy last month by announcing that results from their tests of samples taken from Arafat’s body were consistent with polonium poisoning, while not absolute proof of the cause of death.
Teams of scientists from three countries were appointed to determine whether polonium played a role in his death in a French military hospital.
The report handed to Suha Arafat will not be published, but the French public prosecutor’s office said it concluded: “In sum, death was not due to poisoning with Polonium 210.
“Measurements of Polonium 210 and other radioactive substances taken from biological samples of the body are consistent with a natural environmental origin.”
That could lead the magistrates to close the case, unless they have other incriminating evidence.
A Palestinian official dismissed the French findings.
“The French report is politicized and is contrary to all the evidence which confirms that the president was killed by poisoning,” senior Palestinian official Wasel Abu Yousef told Reuters in Ramallah.
“This report is an attempt to cover up what happened in Percy hospital,” he said of the French military hospital near Paris where Arafat was taken for treatment in 2004.
Many Palestinians believe Israel killed him — a charge Israel denies. Earlier, a Palestinian investigator said he would soon name the people he believes are behind Arafat’s death, almost a decade after he started searching for suspects.
A member of the Fatah movement’s security forces stands guard next to a poster of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Tuesday in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain el-Helweh, in southern Lebanon.