Yassir Arafat’s remains to be tested for poison theory
Palestinian officials said they would exhume the body of Yassir Arafat after Swiss scientists revealed in a documentary that the former President of the Palestinian Authority had been poisoned by the substance polonium-210.
Arafat, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 after leading the struggle for Palestinian statehood for 40 years, died on November 11, 2004 in a French hospital aged 75.
Polonium is a rare substance which scientists estimate is 250,000 times more lethal than cyanide if ingested.
At the time there were a number of conspiracy theories concerning the cause of death, one of which was poisoning, but medical reports concluded that there were no known poisons found in his system. Official medical records said that he had died of a stroke resulting from a blood disorder. Another theory was that Arafat, who led the Palestine Liberation Organisation for 35 years, had died of Aids.
An independent investigation conducted by the al-Jazeera news channel now claims that traces of polonium-210 were found in human matter on Arafat’s belongings. The report — screened this week — has led to questions about who within Arafat’s inner circle would have been close enough to deliver the poison.
Some Palestinians still believe that Arafat was killed by Israel because he was viewed as an obstacle to peace, and subsequently put him under house arrest. Israel has always denied any involvement in his death.
The Swiss scientists told al-Jazeera that the radioactive material was present on the leader’s belongings which were handed to his widow.
“In the last years of his life he was confined to just one building, the Muqata, by the Israelis. His inner circle was around him night and day and they were responsible for any visitors who came to see him. If he was poisoned then we know for sure it was one of them,” said one Palestinian official who is close to the Arafat family.
Arafat’s wife, Suha, asked for her husband’s body to be exhumed and for more conclusive tests to be run. At the time of his death she had objected to Arafat undergoing a post mortem.
“I want to know the truth about the death of Yasser Arafat, my husband,” said Suha Arafat in a televised interview.
While Palestinian officials announced they would allow the exhumation of the body, they did not give a date, arguing that they would need to co-ordinate with the “relevent authorities” — namely the Israelis who control the borders in and around the West Bank.
“There is concern that they [the Israelis] will not allow the remains to be removed to an independent third party for analysis because they are afraid of what will be found,” said the PA official.
Israeli authorities said that no formal request had yet been made.
When Arafat died it was declared that he should be buried in a stone rather than wooden coffin, but it was later discovered that he had been buried improperly and in a coffin — not in accordance with Islamic law. On November 13 Arafat was reburied.
There are several suspected cases of poisoning by polonium, the most famous is Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian spy-turned-Kremlin critic, who died in 2006 after drinking tea laced with polonium-210 in London.
A report in the book The Bomb in the Basement, a historical account of how Israel became a nuclear power, claims that several deaths in the country during the 1960s were caused by a leak of polonium-210 in a laboratory in central Israel. The book alleged that Professor Dror Sadeh, a physicist who researched radioactive materials, was exposed to polonium along with several of his colleagues, all of whom subsequently died.