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Palestinian Investigator: Israel Is 'Only Suspect' In Arafat's Death

Oct. 29, 2004: Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat boards a helicopter in the West Bank city of Ramallah en route to a hospital in France. He died weeks later.
Scott Nelson
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Oct. 29, 2004: Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat boards a helicopter in the West Bank city of Ramallah en route to a hospital in France. He died weeks later.

A Palestinian investigator says Israel is the "only suspect" in the 2004 death of the late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

"We consider Israel the first, fundamental and only suspect in Yasser Arafat's assassination," Tawfik Tirawi, head of a Palestinian committee looking into the case, said Friday at a news conference in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

His comments come days after Swiss scientists said they found elevated levels of the radioactive element polonium-210 in Arafat's exhumed remains. As Mark wrote at the time, the scientists said tests "moderately" support the case Arafat was poisoned.

Calling it "the crime of the 21st century," Tirawi dismissed speculation that Arafat died at the hands of rivals within the Palestinian establishment.

Tirawi, who said the investigation would continue, refused to say whether he believed Arafat died from polonium poisoning. And as The Associated Press notes, "he did not present evidence of Israeli involvement, arguing only that Israel had the means and motive to do so. Israel has repeatedly denied it was behind Arafat's death, and did so again Friday, in light of the new allegations."

Israel denied any involvement in Arafat's demise.

"Palestinians should stop leveling all these groundless accusations without the slightest proof because enough is enough," foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told Reuters. "We have strictly nothing to do with this and that is all there is to it."

At the same news conference in Ramallah, the Palestinian medical expert on the investigative team said a separate Russian report on Arafat found there wasn't enough evidence to conclude that he died from polonium poisoning.

"The outcome of the comprehensive report on the levels of polonium-210 and the development of his illness does not give sufficient evidence to support the decision that Polonium-210 caused acute radiation syndrome leading to death," said Dr. Abdullah Bashir, the medical expert, quoting from the report.

Bashir said both the Russian and the Swiss reports did find large amounts of the isotope in Arafat's remains. A team of French scientists has yet to release a report on its findings.

Mark wrote this week:

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.

Arafat's death has long been the subject of conspiracy theories. The Palestinian leader died at the age of 75 in France. He'd been flown there from the West Bank for treatment.

Suha Arafat says she wants an international investigation into her husband's death, but Tirawi, the Palestinian investigator, said that's up to the Palestinian leadership. Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat's successor as Palestinian Authority president, hasn't yet commented on the reports.

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Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.
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