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Arafat probably poisoned, review concludes

In this May 31, 2002 file photo, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat pauses during the weekly Muslim Friday prayers in his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Al-Jazeera is reporting that a team of Swiss scientists has found moderate evidence that longtime Palestinian leader Arafat died of poisoning. The Arab satellite channel published a copy of what it said was the scientists' report on its website on Wednesday. AP Photo

In this May 31, 2002 file photo, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat pauses during the weekly Muslim Friday prayers in his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Al-Jazeera is reporting that a team of Swiss scientists has found moderate evidence that longtime Palestinian leader Arafat died of poisoning. The Arab satellite channel published a copy of what it said was the scientists' report on its website on Wednesday. AP Photo

Swiss forensics examiners found sufficient traces of the deadly radioactive isotope polonium-210 in the exhumed remains of Yasser Arafat to conclude with relative certainty that the late Palestinian leader died of poisoning in 2004, Al-Jazeera channel reported Wednesday.

The Qatar-based broadcaster said it had obtained exclusive access to the 108-page report of the University Center of Legal Medicine in Lausanne, which it posted on its website.

Exam-ination of bone fragments, decomposed tissue and body fluids taken from Arafat’s remains at his West Bank tomb a year ago found at least 18 times the normal level of polonium, the Swiss scientists reported. The Swiss team was one of three given forensic material for investigation in 2011 in hopes of determining his cause of death, the network said. Results of the other two probes have yet to be reported.

Arafat died Nov. 11, 2004, at 75, less than a month after suddenly falling ill with what doctors then thought to be influenza. But the vomiting, nausea and abdominal pain that he complained of are also symptoms of radiation poisoning.

The extensive report on the Swiss findings quoted renowned British forensic scientist Dave Barclay as saying he was “wholly convinced that Arafat was murdered.”

“Yasser Arafat died of polonium poisoning,” Barclay said he concluded from the Swiss findings. “We found the smoking gun that caused his death. What we don’t know is who’s holding the gun at the time.”

While there were immediate suspicions of foul play voiced at the time of his death, pressure built for French judicial authorities to open a formal inquiry into whether the Palestine Liberation Organization founder might have been killed. Arafat’s rivals for power within the fractious Palestinian communities and Israeli officials who branded the PLO leader a “terrorist” were among the chief suspects.

After disclosure of the Swiss findings, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor, anticipating accusations, told journalists that the Israeli government had no hand in Arafat’s death.

“It has nothing to do with Israel,” Palmor said.

He said the investigation and its conclusion were “full of holes,” and pointed to the Swiss report’s equivocation in determining that there was only “moderate” evidence that the PLO leader was poisoned to death.

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