Ever since Yasser Arafat, the iconic leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, died in a French hospital nine years ago, there have been suspicions that he was poisoned, perhaps by the Israeli spy service Mossad.
Arafat’s widow, Suha, has been out front with her suspicions. She provided many of Arafat’s belongings to Swiss researchers who now believe that their findings “support the possibility” that Arafat, who was either loved as a champion of downtrodden Palestinians or decried as a bloodthirsty terrorist depending on where one stood on the Arab-Israeli conflict, was poisoned.
Announcing their findings in the scientific journal The Lancet, the researchers say they found traces of the deadly substance polonium-210 on Arafat’s toothbrush and in his underwear.
Polonium-210 was the poison used to murder Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London two years after Arafat’s death. A Russian politician and former KGB agent is wanted by U.K. authorities for allegedly poisoning Litvinenko.
But Arafat’s death has not been conclusively established as a poisoning, partly because his widow originally opposed any inquiry into his cause of death. She refused to allow an autopsy on Arafat’s body, not changing her mind until 2012 when she had her husband’s remains exhumed.
Arafat was taken ill suddenly on October 12, 2004, with nausea and stomach pain. Later, his liver and kidneys failed and he died at age 75 on Nov. 11 of that year. Doctors never figured out the cause of the fast-acting, deadly illness.
Israeli officials have denied that their country had anything to do with Arafat’s death. Though Arafat (pictured, in 1974) in his lifetime was the most recognizable public face of the Palestinian movement, there were numerous competing groups led by Arafat rivals among the Palestinians.
The Swiss scientists said that Arafat’s gastrointestinal symptoms were consistent with polonium poisoning, but he lacked other conditions such as hair loss or impaired bone marrow activity commonl seen in polonium victims.
Reaction to the news of the new findings has been interestingly varied. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz emphasized that “inconclusive” nature of the findings. But the Russian news agency Pravda declared flatly that the study “confirmed” that Arafat’s death was the result of polonium poisoning.
SOURCES: NBC News, Daily Telegraph, The Lancet, Haaretz, Pravda, Wikipedia