/ 4 July 2012

Arafat’s body may be screened for poisoning

Palestine's former leader Yasser Arafat.
Palestine's former leader Yasser Arafat.

The comments from Tawfiq Tirawi, who led a Palestinian probe into Arafat's death, came a day after an Al-Jazeera investigation showed the Palestinian leader might have been poisoned with the radioactive substance polonium.

"After the Al-Jazeera broadcast I met today with president [Mahmud] Abbas and recommended accepting an analysis of the body of the martyr president Arafat, and Abbas for his part agreed on the condition that the family … accepts," he said.

Al-Jazeera enlisted European laboratories and scientists to analyse clothes and other items belonging to Arafat, which were handed to his wife Suha by the Paris hospital where the Palestinian leader died in 2004.

She handed the belongings to Al-Jazeera, which commissioned various tests of Arafat's clothing, including a hat that contained strands of his hair, and clothing with his sweat on it.

Francois Bochud, head of the Institute of Radiation Physics at the University of Lausanne, said the testing revealed high levels of the radioactive substance polonium.

"The conclusion was that we did find some significant polonium that was present in these samples," he told Al-Jazeera.

Polonium was used to kill Russian former spy turned Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, who died in 2006 after drinking tea laced with the substance at a London restaurant.

Arafat, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who led the struggle for Palestinian statehood for nearly four decades, died on November 11 2004, following several weeks of treatment.

He was airlifted to France from his besieged headquarters in the Israeli-occupied West Bank to a Paris hospital for treatment.

French officials, citing privacy laws, refused to reveal the precise cause of death or the nature of his condition, fuelling a host of rumours and theories as to the cause of his illness.

At the time of his death at the age of 75, Palestinian officials charged he had been poisoned by long-time foe Israel, but an inconclusive Palestinian investigation in 2005 ruled out cancer, Aids or poisoning.

The Al-Jazeera investigation included testing for HIV and leukaemia, neither of which were detected.

To confirm the theory that the Palestinian leader was poisoned by polonium it would be necessary to exhume and analyse Arafat's remains, Bochud said.

"If [Suha Arafat] really wants to know what happened to her husband [we need] to find a sample – I mean, an exhumation … should provide us with a sample that should have a very high quantity of polonium if he was poisoned," he said. – AFP