Arafat ‘may have been murdered by radioactive poison’

The body of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat may be exhumed after new evidence emerged that he might have been killed with radioactive poison.

Mr Arafat’s widow, Suha, called for the autopsy in the wake of a Swiss laboratory’s findings, first reported by Al-Jazeera.

Mr Arafat died at a military hospital outside Paris in November 2004 of what French doctors called a massive brain haemorrhage weeks after he fell violently ill at his West Bank compound.

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Doctors, including independent experts who reviewed his medical records have been unable to pinpoint the underlying cause. Speculation has lingered in the Arab world that he was killed by Israel, which but its officials have denied any foul play.

Francois Bochud, who heads the Institute of Radiation Physics in Lausanne, Switzerland, said experts found “very small” quantities of polonium, an isotope that is naturally present in the environment. But there were higher quantities of polonium in clothing that Mr Arafat wore.

This would not necessarily mean Mr Arafat was poisoned, Mr Bochud said, adding that it is 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.”

Polonium is best known for killing Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent turned critic of the Russian government, in London in 2006. He was given tea laced with the substance.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said he is willing to cooperate with further testing, provided Mr Arafat’s family agrees.

At the time of his death, Mr Arafat was confined by Israel in the Ramallah government compound.

Dov Weisglass, the chief of staff of Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Israel never considered killing Mr Arafat.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said “the circumstances of Mr 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.”