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Tests 'Moderately Support' Case That Arafat Was Poisoned

Swiss scientists report that tests on the remains of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat "moderately support" the theory that his 2004 death "was the consequence of poisoning with polonium-210."

It was almost a year ago that Arafat's grave was opened in the West Bank city of Ramallah so that samples could be taken. Palestinian officials took the unusual step because Arafat's widow, Suha Arafat, said earlier in 2012 that traces of the radioactive element had been found on clothing that belonged to her husband.

Now, Al-Jazeera has what it says is an exclusive: the report from scientists at the University Centre of Legal Medicine in Lausanne about what they've discovered. (Al-Jazeera also shared the report with The Guardian.)

Al-Jazeera writes that the tests "found unnaturally high levels of polonium in Arafat's ribs and pelvis, and in soil stained with his decaying organs." The Guardian notes that the levels of polonium were "at least 18 times higher than the norm in Arafat's ribs, pelvis and in soil that absorbed his leaked bodily fluids."

Other scientists are also studying the samples from Arafat's remains. Al-Jazeera writes that "60 samples of his body tissue were taken and 20 each distributed to the Swiss team, a French team of judges and forensic experts assigned to [a French-led] murder investigation, and a Russian group invited at the request of the Palestinian Authority. The Russians are expected to disclose their results soon. The French are not expected to release their results before the murder investigation concludes."

It was an Al-Jazeera documentary that last year led French authorities to launch a murder probe. Arafat, 75, died in November 2004 at a French hospital. He had been flown to France from the West Bank after falling ill.

The Palestinian leader's death has long been the subject of conspiracy theories and questions.

In 2005, The New York Times wrote that medical records indicated that he "died from a stroke that resulted from a bleeding disorder caused by an unidentified infection." But the Times added that "the records show that despite extensive testing, his doctors could not determine the underlying infection." There's no sign in the Times report that doctors suspected polonium poisoning.

Al Jazeera notes if Arafat was poisoned, then:

"In terms of motive, the chief suspects would be Arafat's Palestinian rivals or the Israeli government, his sworn enemy. Ariel Sharon, the prime minister in 2004, viewed Arafat as a 'terrorist' and called his death 'a turning point in Middle Eastern history.' A year earlier, then-Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said killing Arafat 'is definitely one of the options.'

"However, Israel has always vehemently denied it had anything to do with Arafat's sickness or death and to date no evidence has emerged that implicates it."

Suha Arafat tells the Guardian she and her 18-year-old daughter, Zahwa, "have to know who did it. We will not stop in our quest to find out."

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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