(Corrects U.S. Secret Service to State Department Diplomatic
Protection in penultimate para)
* Arafat death caused by polonium poisoning, widow says
* Experts took samples from his body
* PLO official accuses Israel
* Israeli spokesman says it is "soap opera"
By Paul Taylor
PARIS, Nov 6 Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
was poisoned to death in 2004 with radioactive polonium, his
widow Suha said on Wednesday 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.
One of her lawyers said the Swiss institute's report would
be translated from English into French and handed over to the
three magistrates who are investigating the case.
Professor David Barclay, a British forensic scientist
retained by Al Jazeera to interpret the results of the Swiss
tests, said the findings from Arafat's body confirmed last
year's results from traces of bodily fluids on his underwear,
toothbrush and clothing.
"In my opinion, it is absolutely certain that the cause of
his illness was polonium poisoning," Barclay told Reuters. "The
levels present in him are sufficient to have caused death.
"What we have got is the smoking gun - the thing that caused
his illness and was given to him with malice."
The Swiss scientists' report, posted in full on Al Jazeera's
website, was more cautious. It concluded: "Taking into account
the analytical limitations aforementioned, mostly time lapse
since death and the nature and quality of the specimens, the
results moderately support the proposition that the death was
the consequence of poisoning with polonium-210."
Al Jazeera said the levels of polonium found in Arafat's
ribs, pelvis and in soil that absorbed his remains were at least
18 times higher than normal.
The same radioactive substance was slipped into a cup of tea
in a London hotel to kill defecting Russian spy Alexander
Litvinenko in 2006. From his deathbed, Litvinenko accused
Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder.
Barclay said the type of polonium discovered in Arafat's
body must have been manufactured in a nuclear reactor.
While many countries could have been the source, someone in
Arafat's immediate entourage must have slipped a miniscule dose
of the deadly isotope probably as a powder into his drink, food,
eye drops or toothpaste, he said.
Arafat fell ill in October 2004, displaying symptoms of
acute gastroenteritis with diarrhoea and vomiting. At first
Palestinian officials said he was suffering from influenza.
He was flown to Paris in a French government plane but fell
into a coma shortly after his arrival at the Percy military
hospital in the suburb of Clamart, where he died on Nov. 11.
The official cause of death was a massive stroke but French
doctors said at the time they were unable to determine the
origin of his illness. No autopsy was carried out.
Barclay said no one would have thought to look for polonium
as a possible poison until the Litvinenko case, which occurred
two years after Arafat's death.
Some experts have questioned whether Arafat could have died
of polonium poisoning, pointing to a brief recovery during his
illness that they said was not consistent with radioactive
exposure. They also noted he did not lose all his hair. But
Barclay said neither fact was inconsistent with the findings.
Since polonium loses 50 percent of its radioactivity every
four months, the traces in Arafat's corpse would have faded so
far as to have become untraceable if the tests had been
conducted a couple of years later, the scientist said.
"A tiny amount of polonium the size of a flake of dandruff
would be enough to kill 50 people if it was dissolved in water
and they drank it," he added.
The Al Jazeera investigation was spearheaded by
investigative journalist Clayton Swisher, a former U.S. State
Department Diplomatic Protection agent who became friendly with
Arafat and was suspicious of the manner of his death.
Suha Arafat called for an investigation inside the Muqata
Palestinian government headquarters and said she and her
daughter, Zahwa, would pursue the case through the courts in
France and elsewhere until the perpetrators were brought to
(Additional reporting by Gerard Bon in Paris and Crispian
Balmer and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Writing by Paul Taylor;
Editing by Crispian Balmer, Ralph Boulton and Giles Elgood)