Was Yasser Arafat murdered? ‘Lethal levels of polonium’ found in body of Palestinian leader

Death of leader seriously weakened the Palestinian cause and removed the one figure who could unite the diverse and quarrelsome Palestinian groups

Suspicions that the former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was poisoned will be strengthened by the discovery by Swiss scientists of 18 times the normal level of radioactive polonium in his remains.

Mr Arafat, who had long symbolised the Palestinians fight for their own state, died on 11 November 2004 from an illness that was never fully diagnosed by his doctors.

Swiss scientists have been carrying out tests on tissue taken from Mr Arafat’s body and personal items with which he was brought into close contact.

They say they are confident up to an 83 per cent level that the Palestinian leader was poisoned and suspect that the cause may be polonium.

The results of the investigation by Swiss scientists is contained in an 108-page report by the University Centre for Legal Medicine in Lausanne which was obtained exclusively by Al Jazeera television channel which had previously carried out its own enquiry.

Mr Arafat’s body was exhumed last November in Ramallah on the West Bank where he was buried and 60 tissue samples were given to Swiss, French and Russian teams of forensic scientists.

Dave Barclay, a British forensic scientist and former detective, told Al Jazeera that the findings had convinced him that Mr Arafat had been murdered. “Yasser Arafat died of polonium poisoning,” he said. “We found the smoking gun that caused his death. The level of polonium in Yasser Arafat’s rib... is about 900 millibecquerels. That is either 18 or 36 times the average, depending on the literature.”

The report only examined what killed Mr Arafat not whether or not he was deliberately poisoned.

The death of Mr Arafat seriously weakened the Palestinian cause, of which he had been the enduring symbol for almost 40 years, and removed the one figure who could unite the diverse and quarrelsome Palestinian groups.

Many Palestinians will be further convinced by the new report that Israel was behind his death. Israel had previously sought to assassinate Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal, in Jordan in 1997 by spraying what they hoped was an undetectable poison in his ear.

But there will still be doubts about the trustworthiness of the evidence taken from Mr Arafat’s body so long after he was buried. The radioactive substance used, polonium-210, has only a brief half-life of 138.4 days so traces detected eight years after he was supposedly poisoned would be difficult to find.

There is also the question as to why French doctors, who were looking after Mr Arafat in Paris – to which he had been flown when he first fell  ill – did not find signs that he had been poisoned in the days immediately after his death. France had bad relations with Israel at the time and had no reason to participate in a cover up.

At the time he was taken fatally ill Mr Arafat was closely confined by the Israelis in his Ramallah compound where he had been for two years. Though he was old and not very strong he was not in ill health in October 2004 when he first fell ill with nausea and stomach pains which were at first thought to be flu symptoms. On 29 October he was taken to Jordan and then flown to France where he relapsed into a coma.

Suha Arafat, Mr Arafat’s widow, had given permission for his body to be exhumed after an Al Jazeera investigation into his death. After receiving a copy of the report she was quoted as saying: “When they came with the results I am mourning Yasser again. It’s like you just told me he died.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?