Russian study calls Arafat poisoning claims 'unsubstantiated'

Palestinian investigators accept Swiss study that indicates poisoning, and call Israel the 'one and only suspect'

A Russian study of Yasser Arafat's exhumed bones was inconclusive, but the Palestinian Authority maintains that Arafat was assassinated and Israel is to blame.
Hussein Hussein/ PPO via Getty Images

Al Jazeera's Investigative Unit said Friday that it has obtained the 15-page conclusion of a study by Russian scientists into the death of former Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat, and that the study calls claims that he was killed by polonium poisoning “unsubstantiated.”

A recently released Swiss report said investigators found significant levels of polonium in Arafat’s exhumed pelvis and ribs, but the Russian investigation team said those results are inconclusive. 

The Russian team received 20 samples from Arafat’s body, as did Swiss and French teams conducting similar investigations. But the scientists in Moscow appear to have only been given four samples to test, two from the skull bone and two from "extremity bones." 

The Russian report concluded that "only one of the four provided fragments," a piece of the skull bone, "was found to have radioactive background."

Dr. Francois Bochud, who led the Swiss investigation, told Al Jazeera's David Poort that the skull was an unlikely place to test for the radioactive substance.

"We thought that (the skull) would not be the best kind of bone sample to measure," he said. "It is not as vascularized as other bones and therefore not the bone that would collect the highest quantity of polonium."

Dave Barclay, a veteran forensic scientist and investigator, told Al Jazeera, "the choice of bone fragments that they've chosen to use is very odd and the levels they've got appear to be 10 or 20 times less than you'd expect just from anyone else in the world."

"I think the results are meaningless," he said. 


Related: Al Jazeera's exclusive report on the Swiss study

A 108-page report by the University Center of Legal Medicine in Lausanne, which was obtained exclusively by Al Jazeera, found unnaturally high levels of polonium in Arafat’s ribs and pelvis, and in soil stained with his decaying organs.

Read more

'One and only suspect'

Palestinian investigators, citing the Swiss report, reiterated on Friday that they are confident Arafat was assassinated.

Speaking at a news conference in Ramallah, members of the Palestinian Investigatory Committee on Arafat's death accepted the Swiss findings, which did not cast blame on any party.

"We say that Israel is the one and only suspect in the case of Yasser Arafat's assassination, and we will continue to carry out a thorough investigation to find out and confirm all the details and all elements of the case,” said Tawfiq Tirawi, head of the Palestinian Authority's inquiry into the death.

"This is the crime of the 21st century," Tirawi said at a news conference in Ramallah.

Tirawi, however, was evasive when asked repeatedly whether he believed Arafat was killed by polonium.

"It is not important that I say here that he was killed by polonium," he said. "But I say, with all the details available about Yasser Arafat's death, that he was killed, and that Israel killed him."

Israel has denied any role in Arafat's death, saying it had politically isolated him at the time and had no reason to assassinate him. On Friday, Israel roundly rejected the Palestinian investigators’ claims.

"I will state this as simply and clearly as I can: Israel did not kill Arafat," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP news agency.

“The Palestinians should stop this nonsense and stop raising these baseless accusations without any shadow of proof," he said.

Arafat’s body was exhumed in November last year, eight years after he died in a French military hospital, after Al Jazeera worked with Swiss scientists and found high levels of polonium in biological stains on Arafat’s clothes.

The Palestinian Authority welcomed the investigation and also called for an independent investigation by Russia.

Polonium is rare and lethal, even in minuscule amounts. It can be a byproduct of the chemical processing of uranium, but usually is made artificially in a nuclear reactor or a particle accelerator.

Israel has a nuclear research center and is widely believed to have a nuclear arsenal, but remains ambiguous about the subject.

Al Jazeera with wire services

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