Swiss lab finds polonium in Arafat samples

Yasser Arafat being interviewed by Swiss Radio International in 1994 Keystone

Traces of the radioactive substance polonium have been detected in the belongings of late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, a Swiss research laboratory has confirmed. A television report says his widow wants his body exhumed for tests.

This content was published on July 4, 2012 minutes and agencies

Tests were carried out on biological samples taken from Arafat’s belongings given to his wife Suha by the military hospital in Paris where he died, according to Francois Bochud, head of the Institute of Radiation Physics at Lausanne University.

"The conclusion was that we did find some significant polonium that was present in these samples," Mr Bochud told the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera satellite channel.

Arafat, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who led the struggle for Palestinian statehood for nearly four decades, died aged 75 on November 11, 2004, following several weeks of treatment.

He had been airlifted to France from his besieged headquarters in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. French doctors who treated Arafat in his final days could not establish the cause of death.

Darcy Christen, spokesman for Lausanne’s Institute of Radiation Physics, confirmed separately to Reuters it had found "surprisingly" high levels of polonium-210 in Arafat's belongings.

But he stressed that clinical symptoms described in Arafat's medical reports were not consistent with polonium-210 and that conclusions could not be drawn as to whether the Palestinian leader was poisoned or not.

Calls for enquiry

In a statement issued by his office on Wednesday , Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he is willing to cooperate with further testing, provided Arafat's family agrees.

"The Palestinian Authority was and remains fully prepared to cooperate and to provide all the facilities needed to reveal the real causes that led to the death of the late president," the statement said.

"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."

A key Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, called for an international commission of inquiry into Arafat's death.

"We are calling for an international commission of inquiry based on the model of the international commission of inquiry into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri," Erekat said.

In its documentary, Al-Jazeera indicated that Arafat's clothes, toothbrush and headscarf contained abnormal levels of polonium, a rare, highly radioactive element.

Bochud said the only way to confirm the findings would be to exhume Arafat's body to test it for polonium-210.

"But we have to do it quite fast because polonium is decaying, so if we wait too long, for sure, any possible proof will disappear," he told Al-Jazeera.

Arafat's widow Suha said she would ask for Arafat's body - buried in the West Bank town of Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian self-rule authority - to be exhumed. 

"We have to go further and exhume Yasser Arafat's body to reveal the truth to all the Muslim and Arab world,” she told the documentary.

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