Arafat’s widow, Suha, advocated that her husband should be given an autopsy in the wake of the lab’s findings, which were initially reported by the Arab satellite TV station Al-Jazeera. In an interview with the station, Mrs. Arafat did not elaborate as to why she waited almost eight years to have the personal items, which include a toothbrush and a fur hat, tested. Suha Arafat withheld her consent for an autopsy at the time of her husband’s death.
When the Palestinian leader died at a military hospital outside Paris in November 2004, French physicians stated that he had suffered a massive brain hemorrhage, several weeks after becoming seriously ill at his West Bank compound.
Doctors – including independent experts who reviewed Arafat’s medical records for the Associated Press – have never yet been able to identify the underlying cause of the brain hemorrhage. Much of the Arab world has continued to speculate that he was murdered by Israel, which considered Arafat to be an obstacle to a peace treaty. Israeli government officials have strongly denied any involvement in his death.
Experts detected what Bochud described as “very small” quantities of polonium, an isotope that exists naturally in the environment. However, higher quantities of polonium were found in Arafat’s underwear and hospital clothing.
This discovery would not necessarily provide conclusive proof that Arafat was poisoned, Bochud said, noting that it is not possible to determine where the polonium might have emanated from. “What is possible to say is that we have an unexplained level of polonium, so this clearly goes toward the hypothesis of a poisoning, but our results are clearly not a proof of any poisoning,” Bochud said.
Polonium was the substance known to have caused the death of Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent who later became a public critic of the Russian government, in London in 2006. Litvinenko had drunk tea laced with polonium.
In a statement issued by his office, Abbas said he is prepared to cooperate with new testing. “The Palestinian Authority was and remains fully prepared to cooperate and to provide all the facilities needed to reveal the real causes that led to the death of the late president,” the statement said. “There are no religious or political reasons that preclude research on this issue, including an examination of the late president by a reliable national medical body, upon request and approval by his family.” The highest-ranking Muslim religious official in the Palestinian territories, Mufti Mohammed Hussein, said he had no religious objections to an autopsy on Arafat.
At the time of his death, Arafat was virtually held prisoner by Israel in the Ramallah government compound. The United States and Israel regarded the Palestinian leader as primarily responsible for the second Palestinian intifada.
In a radio interview at the time, Dov Weisglass, the chief of staff of Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, dismissed the Al-Jazeera report. Weisglass insisted that Israeli officials had never intended to kill Arafat. He said Sharon was not in favor of killing Arafat because “he didn’t think his physical extermination would help. On the contrary.”
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor downplayed the latest development, saying “the circumstances of Arafat’s death are not a mystery … He was treated in France, in a French hospital by French doctors and they have all the medical information.”
The possibility that Israel may have used polonium to murder Arafat was also dismissed by Benny Avni in an opinion piece in the New York Post. Noting Sharon’s opposition to the idea, Avni writes that even if the Prime Minister may have changed his mind and approved the killing of Arafat by poison, he would have likely preferred the use of an untraceable toxin so that Israel would not come under suspicion.
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