Swiss scientists who tested the remains of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s said they found at least 18 times the normal level of radioactive polonium in his bones, according to an Al Jazeera America report published Wednesday.
The news organization said it obtained an exclusive copy of the 108-page report by the University Centre of Legal Medicine in Lausanne, Switzerland.
“The level of polonium in Yasser Arafat’s rib… is about 900 milibecquerels,” British forensics expert Dave Barclay told Al Jazeera. “That is either 18 or 36 times the average, depending on the literature.”
The scientists found traces of the rare element in Arafat’s ribs, pelvis, and in the soil beneath his body, which they said “moderately” supported the theory that he was poisoned.
Arafat’s medical records concluded he died in November 2004 from a stroke “that resulted from a bleeding disorder caused by an unidentified infection,” the New York Times reported in 2005. The paper wrote at the time that the first independent review “suggests that poisoning was highly unlikely.”
Arafat’s widow, Suha, told Reuters after receiving the test results that her late husband was murdered. “We are revealing a real crime, a political assassination,” she was quoted saying. She told Al Jazeera, however, that “We can’t point a finger at anyone.”
“The French are conducting a serious investigation. It takes time.”
The report did not speculate on who was responsible for potentially poisoning the Palestinian leader, but Al Jazeera said the primary suspects are “Arafat’s Palestinian rivals or the Israeli government.”
Israel emphatically rejected the findings of the report. “This story doesn’t hold water,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Times of Israel. The Swiss investigative team was “commissioned by an interested party,” he said.
He also cast doubt on the actual scientific value of the study because the scientists said they had only an 83 percent level of confidence that he was poisoned.
“Their conclusions are inconclusive. Either he was poisoned or he wasn’t,” Palmor said. He also said the Swiss investigative team never asked for access to the medical files of the French hospital in which the Palestinian leader died. “They can’t conclude anything if they don’t ask for access to the most basic medical files.”
Furthermore, he said, the use of a radioactive material like polonium would leave detectable traces all around the location of the suspected poisoning. “How come nobody ever found any such traces? Did they ever bother to look for them? The use of radioactive material cannot but leave a wide area of contamination that can easily be detected.”
Anticipating accusations that Israel might have tried to kill Arafat, Palmor categorically stated that “Israel has strictly nothing to do with this.”
“The use, misuse and abuse of these investigations smack of a lack of seriousness,” he said, “and have to do with an internal Palestinian feud between [Arafat’s widow] Suha on one hand and Arafat’s successor on the other.”
The leader of the Palestinian Authority died at a French hospital in 2004. Many Palestinians believe Israel poisoned Arafat, an allegation that Israel denies.
Last year, a Swiss lab discovered traces of polonium-210, a deadly radioactive isotope, on clothes provided by Arafat’s widow, Suha. More samples were subsequently taken from his remains in the West Bank.
Polonium-210 has a half-life of only 138 days, and experts have cautioned that too much time may have passed to reach a conclusive result.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.