Was Yasser Arafat killed by radioactive poison?

Body of former Palestinian leader may be exhumed after polonium is found on clothes

Jerusalem

Palestinian officials raised the prospect of exhuming Yasser Arafat's body yesterday after a Swiss laboratory said it had discovered an "unexplained" level of the radioactive element polonium on personal belongings of the late President.

The discovery during a nine-month investigation by the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera could prove the most plausible evidence yet to fuel long-standing but uncorroborated rumours among many Palestinians that Yasser Arafat was poisoned.

The potentially deadly element – the same one blamed for the 2006 death in London of the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko – was discovered among personal effects, including clothes and a toothbrush, given to the network by Suha Arafat, the late Palestinian leader's widow.

Mrs Arafat, who refused to allow an autopsy when her husband died in a Paris hospital in November 2004, said yesterday she would be asking for an exhumation, telling Al-Jazeera: "We must go further and exhume Yasser Arafat's body to reveal the truth to the Muslim and Arab world."

And a statement issued by the office of the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat's successor, said: "The Palestinian Authority was and remains fully prepared to co-operate and to provide all the facilities needed to reveal the real causes that led to the death of the late President."

While the statement stopped short of explicitly promising an exhumation, it added: "There are no religious or political reasons that preclude research on this issue, including an examination of the late President by a reliable national medical body, upon request and approval by his family."

The report is likely to trigger fresh speculation over the cause of Arafat's death and the three-week illness that preceded it after his doctors announced he was suffering from "flu".

It explained that the samples of polonium-210 were from belongings procured from Suha Arafat –including the Fatah founder's underwear and his trademark keffiyeh – and stained with his blood, sweat, saliva and urine. The report said it found that alternative explanations for the death – including that he had cancer, cirrhosis of the liver or Aids – were untrue.

François Bochud, director of the Institute of Radiation Physics in Lausanne, Switzerland, which made the discovery, suggested that an exhumation might establish whether Arafat was poisoned. He told Associated Press: "What we can say is that we have an unexplained level of polonium, so this clearly goes toward the hypothesis of a poisoning, but our results are clearly not a proof of any poisoning."

Arafat was frequently denounced as a terrorist leader by some of his Israeli adversaries, including Ariel Sharon, who was Israel's Prime Minister at the time of Arafat's death. Yet, with the assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the Palestinian leader was the co-architect of the Oslo peace accords in the early to mid-Nineties.

But he was also blamed by Israel for leading the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, which began in September 2000 after the collapse of peace talks between Arafat and the then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Tensions were further inflamed when Mr Sharon, then still in opposition, toured the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, surrounded by armed guards; the religious site is sacred to both Jews and Muslims.

Israeli officials have always denied any part in Arafat's death, and yesterday Dov Weisglass, chief of staff to Mr Sharon at the time, said that assassinating the Palestinian leader had never been considered. He said Mr Sharon opposed killing Arafat because "he didn't think his physical extermination would help. On the contrary."

Reuters quoted Darcy Christen, a spokesman for the Lausanne institute, as saying that the clinical symptoms described in Arafat's medical records were not consistent with polonium-210 poisoning. Some Palestinian officials suggested yesterday that an exhumation might only be conducted if requested by a full international inquiry into Arafat's death, which they have demanded.

Polonium poison: The assassins' choice

Polonium is a rare and highly radioactive element found in 1898 that occurs in uranium ores. It has few applications but has been used in heaters for space probes. In 2006, former Russian agent, Alexander Litvinenko, died after being poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 in London. The main suspect, former KGB officer and lawmaker in the Russian parliament, Andrei Lugovoi, was said to have left a trail of polonium around London, and stood accused of lacing Mr Litvinenko's tea with the poison. By mass polonium 210 is about 250,000 times more toxic than hydrogen cyanide.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
i100(More than you think)
Arts and Entertainment
John Hurt will voice Prince Bolkonsky in Radio 4's War and Peace
radioRadio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
News
news

Lincoln MP Karl McCartney 'denied all knowledge' of the Twitter activity

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
The author PD James, who died on 27 November 2014
people

Detective novelist who wrote Death comes to Pemberley passed away peacefully at her home, aged 94

Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
arts + ents
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

Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst Re...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Executive - Software

£20000 - £25000 per annum + 55,000 OTE + benifits: h2 Recruit Ltd: Software Sa...

Argyll Scott International: 2x Service Desk Analyst

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst Re...

Langley James : IT Project Manager; 6 month FTC; Brighton; £400p/d

£400 - £420 per day: Langley James : IT Project Manager; 6 month FTC; Brighton...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?