PARIS, (Reuters) – Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was poisoned to death in 2004 with radioactive polonium, his widow Suha said yesterday after receiving the results of Swiss forensic tests on her husband’s corpse.
“We are revealing a real crime, a political assassination,” she told Reuters in Paris.
A team of experts, including from Lausanne University Hospital’s Institute of Radiation Physics, opened Arafat’s grave in the West Bank city of Ramallah last November, and took samples from his body to seek evidence of alleged poisoning.
“This has confirmed all our doubts,” said Suha Arafat after the Swiss forensic team handed over its report to her lawyers and Palestinian officials in Geneva on Tuesday. “It is scientifically proved that he didn’t die a natural death and we have scientific proof that this man was killed.”
She did not accuse any country or person, and acknowledged that the historic leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization had many enemies, although she noted that Israel had branded him an obstacle to peace.
She told Reuters the polonium must have been administered by someone “in his close circle” because experts had told her the poison would have been put in his coffee, tea or water.
“I’m so angry at what happened and I feel that I’m mourning him all over again. This was an act by cowards.”
Arafat signed the 1993 Oslo interim peace accords with Israel and led a subsequent uprising after the failure of talks in 2000 on a comprehensive agreement.
Allegations of foul play surfaced immediately. Arafat had foes among his own people, but many Palestinians pointed the finger at Israel, which had besieged him in his Ramallah headquarters for the final two and a half years of his life.
“President Arafat passed away as a victim of an organised terrorist assassination perpetrated by a state, that is Israel, which was looking to get rid of him,” Wasel Abu Yousef, member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The publishing of the results by the Swiss institute confirms his poisoning by polonium and this means that Israel carried it out.”
The Israeli government has denied any role in his death, noting that he was 75 years old and had an unhealthy lifestyle.
“This is more soap opera than science, it is the latest episode in the soap in which Suha opposes Arafat’s successors,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said.
Investigations into his demise amounted to “a highly superficial attempt to determine a cause of death.”
An investigation by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera television news channel first reported last year that traces of polonium-210 were found on personal effects of Arafat given to his widow by the French military hospital where he died.
That led French prosecutors to open an investigation for suspected murder in August 2012 at the request of Suha Arafat. Forensic experts from Switzerland, Russia and France all took samples from his corpse for testing after the Palestinian Authority agreed to open his mausoleum.
The head of the Russian forensics institute, Vladimir Uiba, was quoted by the Interfax news agency last month as saying no trace of polonium had been found on the body specimens examined in Moscow, but his Federal Medico-Biological Agency later denied he had made any official comment on its findings.
The French pathologists have not reported their conclusions publicly or shared any findings with Suha Arafat’s legal team. A spokeswoman for the French prosecutor’s office said the investigating magistrates had received no expert reports so far.