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‘Toxicity may or may not be due to polonium’

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Yasser Arafat
Yasser Arafat

Israel is the only suspect in the 2004 death of Yasser Arafat, said the chief Palestinian investigator in the case on Friday, a day after Swiss scientists said the Palestinian leader was probably poisoned by radioactive polonium.

The investigator, Tawfik Tirawi, spoke at a news conference held by the Palestinian team that had been investigating Arafat’s death. Mr. Tirawi said Arafat did not die a natural death, but was evasive when asked repeatedly whether he believed Arafat was poisoned by polonium.

Israel has denied any role in Arafat’s death, saying it had politically isolated him at the time and had no reason to assassinate him.

Arafat died on November 11, 2004 at a French military hospital, at the age of 75, a month after falling ill at his West Bank compound. Arafat’s grave was opened earlier this year, enabling Swiss, Russian and French scientists to take bone and soil samples for separate investigations.

The Swiss team presented its findings on Thursday., saying it found abnormal levels of polonium-210 and lead in Arafat’s remains that could not have occurred naturally and that the results “reasonably” support the theory that Arafat was poisoned by polonium. They said the timeframe of Arafat’s illness and death was consistent with poisoning from ingesting polonium.

The substance is rare and lethal even in minuscule amounts, and nine years on, it would be difficult to track down the culprit.

The Palestinians themselves could come under renewed scrutiny, since Arafat was holed up in his Israeli-besieged West Bank compound in the months before his death, surrounded by advisers, staff and bodyguards.

The Russian findings were summarised on Friday by a member of the Palestinian team, Dr. Abdullah Bashir. He said the Russian team also found that Arafat died as a result of a toxic substance, but did not find sufficient evidence to point to polonium as the “cause of radiation that led to the death”. Dr. Bashir did not elaborate on the discrepancies. — AP


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