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MIDEAST > Palestine’s Abbas calls for Arafat death probe, signals exhumation

RAMALLAH

After elevated levels of a radioactive isotope were found on the personal belongings of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, President Mahmoud Abbas says his may be exhumed to allow for further tests

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Arafat’s final belongings contain elevated levels of polonium, a rare, highly radioactive element.

Arafat’s final belongings contain elevated levels of polonium, a rare, highly radioactive element.

Former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s body may be exhumed to allow for more testing to determine the causes of his death, the Palestinian president said yesterday, after a Swiss lab said it had found elevated levels of a radioactive isotope on belongings the Palestinian leader is said to have used in his final days.

Experts at the Institut de Radiophysique in Lausanne, Switzerland, said on July 3 they had found “surprisingly” high levels of polonium-210 on Arafat’s belongings. But they said the clinical symptoms described in Arafat’s medical reports were not consistent with polonium-210, and that conclusions could not be drawn as to whether the Palestinian leader was poisoned or not.

Arafat’s widow, Suha, called for an autopsy in the wake of the lab’s findings, first reported by Al-Jazeera. In an interview with the network, she did not explain why she had waited nearly eight years to have Arafat’s belongings, including a toothbrush and a fur hat, tested. At the time of his death, she refused to agree to an autopsy. The Palestinian leader died at a military hospital outside Paris in November 2004, after what French doctors called a massive brain hemorrhage, weeks after he fell violently ill at his West Bank compound.

Hariri modeled committee

In a statement issued by his office, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he was willing to cooperate with further testing, provided Arafat’s family agreed. “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.

A senior Palestinian official also said the Palestinians wanted an international probe into the death of the former president. “We call for the formation of an international investigation committee modeled on the international investigation committee set up to look into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri,” Saeb Erakat said.

“I can confirm to you that we measured an unexplained, elevated amount of unsupported polonium-210 in the belongings of Mr. Arafat that contained stains of biological fluids,” Francois Bochud, director of the institute, said.

This would not necessarily mean Arafat was poisoned, Bochud said, adding that it was not possible to say where the polonium might have come 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 told the Associated Press by telephone from Switzerland.

KGB agent died from the same element

Doctors, including independent experts who reviewed Arafat’s medical records, have been unable to pinpoint the underlying cause of the hemorrhage. Speculation has lingered in the Arab world that he was killed by Israel, which viewed him as an obstacle to a peace treaty. Israeli officials have vociferously denied any foul play.Polonium is best known for causing the death of Alexander Litvinenko, a one-time KGB agent turned critic of the Russian government, in London in 2006. Litvinenko ingested tea laced with the substance. At the time of his death, Arafat was confined by Israel in the Ramallah government compound. The United States and Israel viewed Arafat as largely responsible for the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor was dismissive of 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.”

July/05/2012

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