RAMALLAH, West Bank — Swiss scientists have found evidence suggesting Yasser Arafat may have been poisoned with a radioactive substance, a TV station reported Wednesday, prompting new accusations by his widow that the Palestinian leader was the victim of a “shocking” crime.
Palestinian officials have long accused Israel of poisoning Arafat, a claim Israel has denied. Arafat, 75, died under mysterious circumstances at a French military hospital in 2004, a month after falling ill at his Israeli-besieged West Bank compound.
The findings reported Wednesday appear to be the most significant in an investigation into Arafat’s death initiated by his widow, Suha, and the satellite-TV station Al-Jazeera.
Last year, Switzerland’s Institute of Radiation Physics discovered traces of polonium-210, a deadly radioactive isotope, on some of Arafat’s belongings. Soil and bone samples were subsequently taken from Arafat’s grave in the West Bank.
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Al-Jazeera published the Swiss team’s report on the soil and bone samples Wednesday. The results “moderately support the proposition that the death was the consequence of poisoning with polonium-210,” the report said. The Swiss scientists said they found at least 18 times the normal level of polonium in the items studied.
Results of two other probes into Arafat’s death, by Russian and French experts, have yet to be reported.
Repeated attempts to reach the main author, Patrice Mangin, or the Lausanne-based institute’s spokesman, Darcy Christen, were unsuccessful.
Experts not connected to the report said the results support the case that Arafat was poisoned but don’t prove it.
Suha Arafat told Al-Jazeera: “It’s a shocking, shocking crime to get rid of a great leader. I can’t accuse anyone, but how many countries have an atomic reactor that can produce polonium?” she said.
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 center and is widely believed to have a nuclear arsenal but remains ambiguous on the subject.
Arafat’s widow demanded that a Palestinian committee that has been investigating her husband’s death try to find “the real person who did it.” The committee also received a copy of the report but declined to comment.
Raanan Gissin, who was an Israeli government spokesman when Arafat died, repeated Wednesday that Israel had no role in his death. “It was a government decision not to touch Arafat at all,” he said.
Arafat died Nov. 11, 2004, a month after falling violently ill at his Ramallah compound.
French doctors said he died of a massive stroke and had suffered from a blood condition known as disseminated intravascular coagulation, or DIC. But the records were inconclusive about what led to the DIC, which has numerous possible causes, including infections and liver disease.
The examination of Arafat’s remains found “unexpectedly high levels” of polonium-210, the Swiss team wrote.
Derek Hill, a professor in radiological science at University College London who was not involved in the investigation, said the levels of polonium-210 cited in the report seem “way above normal.”
“I would say it’s clearly not overwhelming proof, and there is a risk of contamination (of the samples), but it is a pretty strong signal,” he said. “It seems likely what they’re doing is putting a very cautious interpretation of strong data.”