French experts rule out Arafat poisoning

Arab World Materials 4 December 2013 00:20 (UTC +04:00)

New report says former Palestinian leader was not poisoned by radioactive polonium and that he died of natural causes. French investigators have concluded in a report that Yasser Arafat died of natural causes and ruled out the possibility that he was poisoned, a source told Al Jazeera.

"The analysis cannot lead us to affirm that Arafat died of polonium 210 poisoning," reads the report, according to the source, who has seen it. The report comes to the same conclusion the French reached in 2004 - that Arafat died of a brain hemorrhage and an intestinal infection.

According to the forensic report presented in Paris to Suha Arafat, the widow of the late Palestinian leader, and her lawyer, Saad Djabbar, French investigators found traces of the radioactive element polonium 210, but concluded that Arafat died of natural causes.

The French tests, conducted independently and in secret as part of a murder investigation, appear to contradict Swiss findings , which "moderately supported" the possibility that polonium 210 was the cause of Arafat's death.

At a press conference in Paris on Tuesday evening, Suha Arafat and her lawyer said the French report found similar levels of polonium 210 as the Swiss, but investigators in Paris came to different conclusions.

"There's a differing interpretation," Suha Arafat said through an interpreter. "Is it the poisoned body that would have contaminated the environment outside? Or is it the opposite?

"The first one is the conclusion of the Swiss," Suha Arafat continued. "The Swiss think that the body was poisoned and contaminated the environment. And the French reach the opposite conclusion - that it's actually the environment outside which explains the presence of polonium 210."

'A conservative approach'

Suha Arafat's lawyer, Djabbar, alleged that the French investigators followed "a very conservative, narrow approach" to their analysis of Arafat's remains. He added: "I tell you one thing, for us, the only show in town is that of the Swiss."

Samples of Arafat's remains were provided to Swiss, French and Russian teams after his body was exhumed from a mausoleum in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, in November 2012.

Last month, Al Jazeera published a study by Switzerland's Lausanne University that found between 18 and 36 times the normal background levels of polonium in Arafat's rib and hips and in the surrounding soil stained by his body fluid.

A similar forensic test conducted by Russian scientists, who were invited to participate by Palestinian Authority officials, was inconclusive .

rafat fell ill on October 10, 2004, after eating a meal in his compound in Ramallah, which had been under siege for more than two years by the Israel military. His doctor initially diagnosed flu-like symptoms. He did not recover, and was flown to Percy Military Hospital in Paris on October 29 for treatment.

Doctors in Paris conducted toxicology exams and did not find evidence of common poisons. The French doctors could not explain Arafat's illness, though they did not test for Polonium at the time.

In late 2011, Al Jazeera began an investigation of Arafat's death. Suha Arafat gave the network access to Arafat's medical file and a gym bag containing clothes he wore prior to his death.

The files and clothing were taken to the Centre for Legal Medicine and Institute of Radiophysics at Lausanne University in Switzerland.

Murder investigation

Scientists there found heightened levels of radioactive polonium 210 in blood and urine stains on Arafat's belongings, prompting his widow to ask for her late husband's body to be exhumed for additional tests.At the same time, on July 31, 2012, Suha Arafat, who is a French citizen, filed a complaint at a criminal court in Nanterre, a western suburb of Paris.

With Arafat's death in France, and Swiss scientists finding evidence of polonium 210, the French court appointed three prosecutors on August 28, 2012, to investigate whether Arafat was murdered.

In November 2012, the Palestinian Authority agreed to exhume Arafat's body and provide 20 samples each to French, Swiss and Russian investigators.

The French prosecutors, along with a scientific and pathology team, attended Arafat's exhumation in Ramallah. There were no French radiological experts present at the exhumation, according to the Swiss scientists who were there.