Friday 31 October 2014

Arafat polonium 'no accident'

Published 07/11/2013 | 13:01

The widow of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is demanding justice after experts said he had ingested lethal radioactive polonium.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat ingested lethal radioactive polonium before his death nine years ago, and it could not have been by accident, Swiss scientists say.

The Swiss lab examined Arafat's remains and his underclothes and a travel bag that he had with him in the days before his death in a Paris hospital and found that the polonium and lead amounts could not be naturally occurring.

The timeframe of his illness and death were also consistent with polonium poisoning, they said.

"You don't accidentally or voluntarily absorb a source of polonium - it's not something that appears in the environment like that," said Patrice Mangin, director of the laboratory. He said he could not say unequivocally what killed Arafat - the biological samples obtained just last year were far too degraded.

Palestinian officials have alleged from the start that Israel poisoned Arafat, a claim Israel denies.

Suha Arafat, his widow, called on the Palestinian leadership on Thursday to seek justice for her husband. Speaking from the Qatari capital Doha, she did not mention Israel, but argued that only countries with nuclear capabilities have access to polonium.

"I can't accuse anyone, but it's clear this is a crime, and only countries with nuclear reactors can have and do that," she said.

"Now the ball is in the hands of the Palestinian Authority. They have to find the tools and pursue the legal case. They can resort to international legal institutions and international courts," she added.

Francoi Bochud, a radiophysicist involved in the report, said polonium can be obtained with authorisation, noting that his own lab receives it in liquid form for research.

In that form, Mr Bochud said, just a minuscule amount slipped into food or drink would be lethal within about a month.

The Palestinian leader died in November 2004 at a French military hospital, a month after falling violently ill at his Israeli-besieged West Bank compound.

The 108-page report on the findings was published on Wednesday by the Qatar-based satellite TV station Al-Jazeera. The station, with Mrs. Arafat, had initiated the renewed investigation of Arafat's death last year.

Earlier this year, Arafat's grave was exhumed. The Swiss report said Arafat's remains and burial soil contained elevated levels of polonium-210, a rare and lethal substance.

Israeli officials vehemently denied any role in Arafat's death.

Paul Hirschson, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, dismissed the allegations as "hogwash."

Former Israeli official Dov Weisglass said Israel had no motive to kill Arafat at a time when he had been sidelined and isolated.

"I can assure you that officially, Israel had nothing to do with it," Mr Weisglass, a senior adviser to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said in a phone interview. "In late 2004, Israel had no reason whatsoever even to consider a step of this kind."

Polonium can be a byproduct of the chemical processing of uranium, but usually is made artificially in a nuclear reactor or a particle accelerator. Israel has a nuclear research centre and is widely believed to have a nuclear arsenal, but remains ambiguous about the subject.

Mrs Arafat said the Swiss experts told her that had the remains been examined a year later, traces of polonium would have vanished.

In a statement put out by his office, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged official Palestinian bodies to "follow up the investigation and to reveal all the facts about the death of the late leader Yasser Arafat, and to put the whole truth before the Palestinian people and the world."

The investigation was seen as potentially embarrassing to Mr Abbas and his inner circle. The Palestinian investigation quickly hit a dead end. Mr Abbas must now show publicly that he is interested in a vigorous follow-up, while not disrupting his negotiations with Israel.

The US wants Israel and the Palestinians to keep negotiating, even though there appears to be no visible progress after more than three months of meetings. Mr Abbas is in the Jordanian capital Amman for a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry.

On Friday, the Palestinian committee that has been investigating Arafat's death was to hold a news conference.

AP

Press Association

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