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Palestinian Territories

'Moderate' evidence points to Arafat polonium poisoning

Swiss scientists have found evidence that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat may have been poisoned with polonium, according to a publication of their findings. Arafat’s death in 2004 has long been shrouded in mystery.

Arafat 'may have been poisoned'

A text of the scientists' findings published by the television channel Al-Jazeera on Wednesday served to fuel speculation that the Palestinian leader was poisoned intentionally.

The results "moderately support the proposition that the death was the consequence of poisoning with polonium-210," the 108-page analysis said.

"New toxicological and radio-toxicological investigations were performed, demonstrating unexpectedly high-levels of polonium-210 and lead-210 activity in many of the analyzed specimens," said the report, written by 10 experts at the Vaudois University Hospital Center in Lausanne.

Arafat died in November 2004 at the age of 75. Doctors at the time said they were unable to verify the cause of his death and no autopsy was carried out at the time.

Previous media reports have postulated that Arafat might have displayed high levels of polonium in his body as a result of smoking. However, the experts said the polonium levels in bones and soft tissues were as much as 20 times greater than would be the case in that scenario.

An official in charge of the Palestinian investigation into Arafat's death said that he had also received the laboratory's findings, but refused to disclose their content.

Many Palestinians have accused Israel of carrying out the poisoning. The Israeli authorities had kept Arafat under siege at his headquarters in Ramallah for the last two-and-a-half years of his life.

Responding to the findings, Arafat's widow Suha described her husband's death to the Reuters news agency as “a real crime, a political assassination," without attributing the blame to any one nation or person.

She acknowledged that the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) had numerous enemies, but pointed out that Israel had condemned Arafat as an "obstacle to peace."

Russian ex-spy murder claim

Samples for the investigation were taken from Arafat's remains in November last year. Existing suspicions about the death were exacerbated by the 2006 assassination of Russian former spy Alexander Litvinenko in London. A British inquiry found that the Kremlin critic died after polonium was dropped into his tea.

A Russian embassy declared last month that Arafat had not been poisoned with polonium.

The rare but naturally occurring radioactive element, also known as radium-F, emits highly damaging alpha particles inside the body. Polonium-210 is its most commonly occurring isotope.

Arafat signed the 1993 Oslo interim peace accords with Israel, which ended in failure and gave way to a popular uprising.

rc/hc (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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