Yasser Arafat
Yasser ArafatIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Arab television news source Al-Jazeera reported today (Wednesday) that Swiss and Russian scientists have concluded that Palestinian Arab leader Yasser Arafat likely died from polonium poisoning, not natural causes as initially believed. 

The 108-page analysis, which is posted on Al-Jazeera's website, concludes that the studies "moderately support the proposition that the death was the consequence of poisoning with polonium-210" as well as "lead-210." 

It added that polonium levels in "bones and soft tissues were up to 20 times larger" than hypothesised, firmly ruling out the possibility previously
reported in some media that passive smoking had caused greater than normal polonium levels on Arafat's personal effects.

Al-Jazeera reportedly claimed that the tests revealed over 18 times the normal levels of polonium in Arafat's blood, but the text itself only attests to a "moderate" likelihood, given that only lead-210 was found on the body itself. The Swiss report allegedly also relies on earlier tests, which may have been tainted in the interim. 

On Tuesday, Palestinian Authority officials received the reports, but would not disclose the findings. "The report was delivered" by the Swiss laboratory, Tawfiq Tirawi, who heads the PA investigation into Arafat's death, told AFP. Official PA news agency WAFA said that a Russian team appointed by the Palestinian Authority also handed in its report on November 2 and that its conclusions would be made public in due course.

Some 60 samples were taken from Arafat’s remains in November last year for a probe into whether he was poisoned by polonium. The samples were divided between the Swiss and Russian investigators and a French team carrying out a probe at the request of Arafat's widow Suha.

Arafat died at age 74 in a French hospital, where he was being treated after having fallen seriously ill, in 2004. At the time, his family refused to allow an autopsy.

In 2009 PA leaders, among them Arafat’s replacement, Mahmoud Abbas, began publicly suggesting Israel was to blame for his death. Suha Arafat provided some of his clothing to a laboratory for analysis, and the clothing was found to contain polonium, a radioactive element that can cause fatal poisoning.

Arafat's widow Suha said in an interview aired by Al-Jazeera that the poisoning, if proved, amounted to "the assassination of a great leader" and a "political crime."

"I don't know who did it, but it's terrible," she said.

An expert from Russia’s Federal Medical-Biological Agency was quoted last month as saying that Arafat could not have died of polonium poisoning.

The expert reportedly claimed that the Russian experts found no traces of this substance on Arafat’s remains, but shortly after the report went public, the agency involved denied the statement.

Swiss experts confirmed over the weekend that they had found traces of polonium on clothes belonging to Arafat, but could not confirm that Arafat was poisoned, or indicated who may have been behind it.

PA leaders have threatened to petition the International Criminal Court in The Hague if the investigation finds proof that Arafat was poisoned.