Lawyer: French Arafat probe says polonium came from air, not poison

Photo: Lawyer: French Arafat probe says polonium came from air, not poison / Palestine

The French experts who concluded Yasser Arafat was not poisoned but died of natural causes also found abnormally high levels of polonium in samples taken from his corpse, the lawyer of the Palestinian leader's widow, Suha, said Wednesday.

The French tests on Arafat's exhumed remains found levels of polonium-210 "sometimes 20 times" and "sometimes 40 times" above normal levels - a discovery that corroborated the findings of separate Swiss tests, lawyer Pierre-Olivier Sur told France Inter radio, dpa reported.

But unlike the Swiss scientists - who said the results "moderately" supported the hypothesis of poisoning - the French tests concluded that the polonium came from the air pockets that surround a decomposing corpse, Sur said.

"Two groups of experts have made similar assessments but drawn diametrically opposed conclusions," he said.

France last year launched a murder investigation into Arafat's death - which occurred in a French hospital in 2004 - after Suha Arafat demanded a government investigation into allegations that her 75-year-old husband had been poisoned.

The results of the investigation, which showed Arafat died of "old age following a generalized infection," were leaked on Tuesday to French media.

Sur said the French prosecutors had asked to see the report from Switzerland's Institute of Radiology to compare findings, before drawing a definitive conclusion on the cause of death.

On Tuesday, Suha Arafat had said she was "stunned" by the contrasting conclusions of the French and the Swiss tests. "What should I think?" she asked.

Many Palestinians believe their leader of nearly four decades was poisoned by the Israeli government, accusations the latter vigorously denies.

A spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry said the result of the French tests was "not surprising" and expressed the hope that Arafat could "finally rest in peace."

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