Arafat polonium findings confirmed by Swiss scientists

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Media caption,

The BBC's Yolande Knell: "People here in Ramallah have shown no surprise at these new findings"

Swiss scientists have confirmed that tests show the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had high levels of radioactive polonium in his body.

However, they could not say whether polonium poisoning had caused his death in 2004.

Their report concluded that Arafat's remains showed levels of polonium 18 times higher than normal.

Arafat's widow, Suha, has reaffirmed to the BBC her belief that their report proves he was assassinated.

But she said she could not directly accuse anyone, saying that he had many enemies around the world.

Many Palestinians have long believed that Israel poisoned Arafat. There have also been allegations that he had Aids or cancer. Israel has consistently denied any involvement.

'Documented for history'

The scientists - from the Vaudois University Hospital Centre (CHUV) in Lausanne, Switzerland - had carried out a detailed examination of Arafat's medical records, samples taken from his remains and items he had taken into the hospital in Paris where he died in 2004.

The biological materials included pieces of Mr Arafat's bones and soil samples from around his corpse.

Professor Francois Bochud told a news conference on Thursday that the high level of polonium detected "by definition... indicates third party involvement... Our results offer moderate backing for the theory of poisoning."

But he went on to say: "Was polonium the cause of the death for certain? The answer is no, we cannot show categorically that hypothesis that the poisoning caused was this or that."

In their report, the scientists had stressed that they had been unable to reach a more definitive conclusion because of the time that had lapsed since Arafat's death, the limited samples available and the confused "chain of custody" of some of the specimens.

Polonium-210 is a highly radioactive substance. It is found naturally in low doses in food and in the body, but can be fatal if ingested in high doses.

Arafat, who led the Palestine Liberation Organisation for 35 years and became the first president of the Palestinian Authority in 1996, fell violently ill in October 2004 at his compound in the West Bank.

Media caption,

Professor Francois Bochud: "Can we exclude polonium as cause of death? The response is clearly no"

Two weeks later he was flown to a French military hospital in Paris, where he died on 11 November 2004, aged 75.

His official medical records say he died from a stroke resulting from a blood disorder.

France began a murder inquiry in August 2012 after the preliminary findings of polonium by the Lausanne scientists, who have been working with an al-Jazeera documentary crew.

Parallel investigations are being carried out by French and Russian experts - one Russian official said last month that no traces of polonium had been found.

Suha Arafat, who had objected to a post-mortem at the time of his death, agreed for his body to be exhumed a year ago "to reveal the truth".

Welcoming the Swiss report, Mrs Arafat said she had no doubt that her husband had been assassinated but refused to point the finger at Israel.

"I can't accuse anybody. Everybody wants to accuse Israel - I can't accuse - I can't jump into conclusion," she told the BBC.

"Now the case is in the French jurisdiction, I wanted to document this crime - this crime I want it documented for history, actually."