Arafat posters
Arafat posters AFP photo

A Russian expert has been quoted as saying that former Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat could not have died of polonium poisoning.

“He could not have died of polonium poisoning – the Russian experts found no traces of this substance,” Vladimir Uiba, the head of Russia’s Federal Medical-Biological Agency, reportedly told the Interfax news agency.

However, shortly after the report went public, the agency involved denied Uiba’s statement.

“We have not publicized any official reports of our forensic review,” a spokesman told AFP. “Neither have we publicly confirmed nor denied media reports about there being or not being polonium in Arafat’s remains.”

When asked to explain the Interfax report, the spokesman said, “There was no statement.”

Arafat died at age 74 in 2004. He died in a French hospital, where he was being treated after having fallen seriously ill. 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. Arafat’s widow Suha 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.

Many observers expressed skepticism, noting that the levels of polonium found were higher than what would have been expected so many years after a poisoning. However, an investigation was opened, with samples sent to experts from Sweden, France and Russia.

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

Aside from blaming Israel, Arafat’s Fatah movement has also pointed the finger at the former leader’s rivals within his own party.