Israel Describes Allegations of Arafat Poisoning as ‘More Soap Opera Than Science’
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor on Wednesday said Israel played no role in the death of former PLO leader Yassir Arafat, Reuters reported.
“This is more soap opera than science, it is the latest episode in the soap in which Suha opposes Arafat’s successors,” Palmor said, referring to Arafat’s widow and the grab for power that ensued after Arafat’s death.
Palmor told Reuters that the investigations into his demise amounted to “a highly superficial attempt to determine a cause of death,” noting that Arafat was already 75 years old and not well when he died.
Earlier, Raanan Gissin, a top aide to former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon at the time, said the premier had ordered explicitly that no harm be done to Arafat.
“Ariel Sharon insisted that everything be done to ensure that Arafat, who was at the time living inside his besieged Muqataa compound, was not killed by our soldiers,” Gissin told AFP.
Arafat fell ill in October 2004, displaying symptoms of acute gastroenteritis with diarrhea and vomiting, Reuters reported. Palestinian officials said he was suffering from influenza. He was flown to Paris in a French government plane but fell into a coma and died shortly after his arrival at the Percy military hospital. The official cause of death was a massive stroke, but French doctors said at the time they were unable to determine the origin of his illness. No autopsy was carried out.
On Wednesday, Arafat’s widow told Reuters that Swiss forensic tests showed he was poisoned to death with radioactive polonium, which must have been administered by someone “in his close circle” because experts had told her the poison would have been put in his coffee, tea or water.
An investigation by Al Jazeera last year said that traces of polonium-210 were found on personal effects of Arafat given to his widow. Professor David Barclay, a British forensic scientist retained by Al Jazeera to interpret the results of the Swiss tests, said the findings from Arafat’s body confirmed last year’s results from traces of bodily fluids on his underwear, toothbrush and clothing.
“In my opinion, it is absolutely certain that the cause of his illness was polonium poisoning,” Barclay told Reuters. “The levels present in him are sufficient to have caused death.”
Al Jazeera said the levels of polonium found in Arafat’s ribs, pelvis and in soil that absorbed his remains were at least 18 times higher than normal.
In 2006, two years later, radioactive polonium absorbed in a cup of tea in a London hotel was used to kill defecting Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.
Barclay said the type of polonium discovered in Arafat’s body must have been manufactured in a nuclear reactor. While many countries could have been the source, someone in Arafat’s immediate entourage could have slipped a miniscule dose of the deadly isotope probably as a powder into his drink, food, eye drops or toothpaste, he said.
“A tiny amount of polonium the size of a flake of dandruff would be enough to kill 50 people if it was dissolved in water and they drank it,” he added.
The Al Jazeera investigation was spearheaded by investigative journalist Clayton Swisher, a former U.S. State Department Diplomatic Protection agent who became friendly with Arafat and was suspicious of the manner of his death, Reuters reported.