A team of international forensic experts obtained samples from the remains of Yasser Arafat after Palestinian Authority officials exhumed Arafat’s body at his mausoleum in Ramallah, West Bank today. The forensic experts were able to collect their samples onsite and Arafat’s body was quickly re-entombed. Testing of the samples will take no less than 3 months and the samples will be tested independently in Switzerland, France and Russia by forensic experts in each of those nations.
Arafat died in 2004 after suffering an apparent stroke, however suspicions, rumor and innuendo have dominated discussion of what may have ended his life ever since; there even speculation that he was suffering from AIDS. Arafat had been visibly deteriorating in health for a time before his death. The most prominent suspicion among Palestinians is that he was poisoned by the Israelis while under siege by Israeli forces at his West Bank headquarters in 2004.
Israel has long denied this and it is pretty clear that if an Israeli government had taken the decision to assassinate Arafat, they could have done so at any time during all the years he led the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). 2004 was not the first time Israeli forces had him cornered.
Arafat and his entourage were surrounded before in Beirut during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and Israel agreed to allow Arafat’s departure along with the rest of the PLO. In recent months the suspicion as to what Arafat may have been poisoned with has centered on the radioactive element polonium-210, after traces of it were detected in DNA stains on Arafat’s clothing.
Polonium-210 was the element which killed Russian defector Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 who was living in exile in Britain at the time, cooperating with MI6 on a number of cases involving Russian FSB operations. His poisoning is alleged to have occurred during a meeting with two Russian FSB agents in a London restaurant in an act so brazenly carried out, that the incident generated a serious diplomatic row between President Vladimir Putin and then British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
As to who would have benefited the most from poisoning and killing Arafat whether by polonium or any other method is hard to guess outside the default suspects, the Israelis. However, Arafat’s death did herald the negotiations and agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas which have mostly endured even despite continued conflict between Israel and Hamas controlled Palestinian Gaza.
Polonium-210 has to be ingested into the body to do its deed. It is not radioactive so is unable to travel through solid objects. In fact its particles are not even able to breech a sheet of paper. For anyone to have poisoned Arafat with polonium they would have to have been able to contaminate his food or drink or otherwise cause it to be ingested. It is far more likely someone within Arafat’s own inner circle in 2004 was the culprit rather than the Israelis. Though that does not exclude the possibility that Israel could have had an agent inside that inner circle.
Another leader suspected of having been poisoned with polonium-210 is deceased Turkish President Turgut Ozal. Ozal’s body was exhumed last month and it was confirmed Turkish officials this week that there were poisons present in Ozal’s remains, and not in the surrounding soil of his grave site. In addition to polonium, DDT, DDE, and toxic levels of cadmium and americium were detected in his remains. Ozal had survived an assassination attempt in 1988 though he was wounded in the hand. He died in office in 1993 at age 65 of an apparent heart attack. Ozal did have heart issues dating back to 1987 when he was Prime Minister of Turkey.