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Forensic examination of Arafat's remains confirms polonium poisoning

Swiss scientists have discovered radioactive polonium in the remains of deceased Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, amid claims that he was intentionally poisoned. The scientists tasked with examining samples from Arafat’s remains found 18 times the normal amount of radioactive polonium in his body, which raises the likelihood that he died from poisoning to 83 per cent.


A 108-page report issued by the Forensic Vaudois University Hospital Centre (CHUV) in Lausanne, Switzerland, obtained by Al-Jazeera, states that abnormal levels of polonium were found in Arafat’s pelvis, ribs, and in the dirt on his body.

On Tuesday, Suha Arafat, the deceased Palestinian president’s widow, received a copy of the Swiss experts’ report in Paris from her lawyer Saad Jabbar while in the presence of the British forensic scientist David Barclay, who explained the contents of the report to her.

A smoking gun

Barclay said that the results confirm that Arafat was killed by polonium poisoning and added that “we found a smoking gun, but what we still don’t know is who was holding the gun at the time.”

After reading the results, the British expert confirmed that “the report contains strong evidence” and that “all the results indicate that the level of polonium found in Arafat’s exhumed body is higher than any other earlier case of poisoning.” This means that “we may be facing an assassination.”

Barclay went on to say that polonium levels are known to decrease by half every six months and thus the radioactive material has appeared as lead-210 in Arafat’s body. He also said that the investigators can now look for “those who had a motive and the chance” to kill the Palestinian leader.

On her part, Suha Arafat said that the results of the Swiss examination suggest that her husband was murdered and that a crime was committed. She also added that the next step for the French investigators is to continue looking for the killer.

The Palestinian leaders’ widow sobbed emotionally after receiving the report.

After hearing Barclay’s explanation of the report, Suha spoke in English in the emotionally charged atmosphere to declare: “Those who committed this crime are cowards because they do not want to put their mark on it, but God wanted us to discover the crime nine years later.”

She remarked how: “I remember his condition during his last day in the hospital… he told me that he wasn’t afraid of death, but he preferred to die in battle.” She also noted that, “The father of the Palestinian people died and they became orphans after his death,” adding that, “I will do everything I can until the killer is found.” She called on the Palestinian Authority to work “until the end to reveal the truth”, demanding that they take firm measures.

Samples from Ramallah

In November 2012, Swiss, French and Russian scientists obtained samples from Arafat’s remains after his body was exhumed in Ramallah.

It is worth noting that polonium is a radioactive substance present in nature, but the report indicated that there were above average levels found in Arafat’s body that are similar to that produced in nuclear reactors.

The Palestinian leader mysteriously fell ill during the second intifada on 12 October 2004 at a time when his compound was being surrounded by Israeli occupation forces.

Arafat suffered from severe nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea, which a doctor diagnosed at the time as the flu. However, Arafat’s health continued to deteriorate and his Egyptian and Tunisian doctors were unable to control it, so he was eventually transferred to Percy Military Hospital in Paris on 29 October 2004.

The French doctors were also unable to diagnose him, and he went into a coma. Arafat passed away on 11 November 2003 at the age of 75.

There was never an autopsy on Arafat’s body after his death in France, nor was his cause of death fully determined. Furthermore, his medical records were never revealed, which raised suspicions in Palestinian circles that he was poisoned.

Al-Jazeera’s investigation

In early 2011, Al-Jazeera began an extensive investigation into Arafat’s death after his widow allowed a team to examine his medical reports and personal belongings, including the clothes he was wearing during his last days, which were given to Swiss forensic scientists because they are known for their neutrality.

In July 2012, Al-Jazeera aired an extensive documentary into the investigation. After examining his possessions, as well as his urine traces, blood spots, and the hair stuck on his hat, the Swiss scientists found high levels of polonium-210.

The various findings by the Swiss experts may have revealed what substance caused Arafat’s death, but they still do not address who killed him and how.

The documentary drove French authorities to open a criminal investigation into Arafat’s death, which later led to the PA granting them permission to exhume Arafat’s body to take 60 samples from his remains and send them to forensic scientists in France, Switzerland, and Russia.

The Russian forensic scientists are expected to reveal the results of their examination soon, while the French scientists are unlikely to release their results until the criminal investigation is complete.

It is known that Ariel Sharon, who was the Israeli Prime Minister during the time of Arafat’s illness and death, considered the Palestinian leader as a “terrorist” and an “enemy” and called for eliminating him. However, Israel has repeatedly denied any role in Arafat’s illness and death.

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