British expert says it's 'highly unlikely' Arafat was poisoned

Symptoms are very different from those of the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, says Professor Nicholas Priest

A leading British biomedical scientist says it is “highly unlikely” that former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died in a French hospital in 2004 from a lethal dose of radioactive polonium.

Reports that samples taken from Arafat’s interred body and analysed by a Swiss laboratory showed high levels of the substance have led to Arafat’s widow calling his death “the crime of the century”. It has also stimulated public outrage among Palestinians, who generally consider Israel to be the most likely perpetrator, though Arafat had many internal enemies.

Speaking in Ramallah yesterday Tawfik Tirawi, who heads the Palestinian committee investigating the death, said that Israel is the “first, fundamental and only suspect,” in the case.

Researchers had hoped to find answers when they analysed samples taken from Arafat’s grave in November last year and handed to laboratories in Switzerland, Russia and France. Their report earlier this week concluded that they are confident up to an 83 per cent level that the Palestinian leader was poisoned.

However Professor Nicholas Priest, who formerly headed the biomedical research unit of the Atomic Energy Authority in Britain, told The Independent that, while poisoning by polonium “cannot be totally ruled out”, the symptoms were very different from those of the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, who died in London in 2006. The professor, a specialist in radiation toxicology, is one the few British scientists to have worked with polonium-210. He was involved in the research over Mr Litvinenko’s death – the only known case of fatal poisoning by the substance. “Key indicators it was not polonium [that killed Arafat] were lack of hair loss in the face, and no damage to his bone marrow, both of which were found extensively in Litvinenko,” Professor Priest said. Photographs show Arafat stepping into a helicopter on the way to France sporting a white beard, while pictures of Litvinenko in hospital reveal an absence of any hair.

He pointed out that polonium would be naturally produced in the bones of anyone buried as a by-product of the bones absorbing lead from the soil, a point, he said, that “the authors of the report understand but the journalists do not”. The Swiss researchers’ carefully worded report admits that even in the tiny samples of non-bone body remains it found in the grave “no significant amount of unsupported polonium-210 was measured”.  They also admit that the pattern of Arafat’s illness was “not consistent with typical acute radiation syndrome”.

Professor Priest said it was “far too dangerous and scientifically unjustified” to calculate how much polonium was in Arafat’s body on the basis of “such tiny concentrations of polonium”. He explained: “The amount found was about one thousandth of a Bq [becquerel] per gram, and if you multiply it back up to what it might have been eight years earlier (doubling the concentration each 138 days), you get a figure of 192 million Bq administered.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
news
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower