Killing Arafat

Accusations and denials follow Arafat report

Political blame game ensues after Al Jazeera reveals results of a Swiss forensic study into Arafat's death.

Last updated: 07 Nov 2013 18:22
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Swiss scientists found at least 18 times the normal levels of polonium-210 in Arafat's remains [Al Jazeera]

Claims and counter-claims have arisen over the death of Yasser Arafat, a day after Al Jazeera revealed the results of a Swiss investigation that pointed to his poisoning with a highly radioactive substance.

The Swiss scientists said on Sunday that the high levels of polonium-210 found in the Palestinian leader's remains and personal effects could indicate third party involvement.

Al Jazeera speaks to Arafat's widow

"Our results are fully in the same line of the previous results [of the investigations on Arafat's belongings]. They actually reinforce our results," said Francois Bochud, the director of the Institute of Radiophysics in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Sunday.

"What we know about the timeline between ingestion of radioactive poison and death is that it usually lasts about one month. This is commonly observed in radioactive poisoning, actually it was also the case of what we observed with Mr Arafat," he added.

Patrice Mangin, the director of the Centre of Legal Medicine in Lausanne, said he regrets that there was no autopsy carried out after Arafat's death on the November 11, 2004.

He said that although he could not say with certainty what killed the Palestinian leader, "our observations are coherent with a hypothesis of poisoning, in any case more consistent than with the opposite hypothesis [of no poisoning]".

“You don't accidentally or voluntarily absorb a source of polonium - it's not something that appears in the environment like that."

'Crime of the century'

Wasel Abu Yusef, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's executive committee has called for an international inquiry into Arafat's death.

"The results proved Arafat was poisoned by polonium, and this substance is owned by states, not people, meaning that the crime was committed by a state," he said on Thursday.

Swiss forensic report on Arafat's death

Qais Abd al-Karim, another member of the PLO's executive committee, told Al Jazeera that the report may prompt the committee to push for an "independent and internationally credible investigation into this crime."

Karim, who called Arafat's poisoning the "crime of the century", pointed fingers at Israel.

"Only Israelis have the means and the motives in order to commit this crime."

"This is a scandal and a crime that makes the Israelis responsible for such atrocities and I think that it is necessary that they should be responsible in front of international justice and they should pay for their crime."

He added that the poisoning would affect Palestinian public opinion and "the majority of Palestinians will find it improper that talks with Israel would continue".

Palestine's Fatah party, which has also made similar accusations, had convened on Sunday to discuss the Swiss and Russian forensic reports.

The belief that Arafat was poisoned is widely held among Palestinians.

"The findings of the report are not very shocking or surprising for the Palestinian people, but now they are definitely anxious and eager to find what their leadership is going to do," said Al Jazeera's Nisreen El-Shamayleh, reporting from Ramallah.

There has not been an official reaction from the Palestinian Authority so far.

'Political assassination'

Suha Arafat, who calls her late husband's death a political assassination, did not accuse any country or person, and acknowledged that the he had many enemies.

Israel said that it did not play a role in Arafat's death. "We never made a decision to harm him physically," said Silvan Shalom, Israel's foreign minister at the time of Arafat's death, on Sunday.

The New York Times reported that Israel had consistently denied any involvement in Arafat's death and quoted Yigal Palmor, spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry, as saying that the Swiss results were "inconclusive, at best".

He told the BBC that a "huge hole in the theory is the absence of all access to the French hospital where Arafat died and to Arafat's medical files".

However, full medical records from Percy hospital near Paris have been available through Al Jazeera since July 2012.

A top aide to former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon said on Thursday that Sharon had ordered that no harm be done to Arafat.

"Ariel Sharon insisted that everything be done to ensure that Arafat, who was at the time living inside his besieged Muqataa compound, was not killed by our soldiers," Raanan Gissin told AFP news agency, in reference to a 2002-2004 Israeli siege of the president's Ramallah headquarters.

"His instructions were to take every precaution to avoid Israel being accused of Arafat's death," said Gissin, who served as Sharon's spokesman.

International media immediately shifted their focus to the allegations of foul play in Arafat's death, widely quoting the report released by Al Jazeera.

News organisations widely reported on the the Swiss labs findings, which sprouted from an Al Jazeera investigation that began in 2012.

Results of the Russian forensic report are expected to be released soon, while the French study will remain secret while a judicial investigation is carried out. But questions continue to be asked about who killed Arafat and why.

Follow Rahul Radhakrishnan on Twitter: @RahulRadhakris


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