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French Experts Say There Is No Proof Arafat Was Poisoned

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 2002.
Chris Hondros
Getty Images
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 2002.

Former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was not poisoned, French investigators have concluded.

After the results of the long-running investigation started to leak, Arafat's wife, Suha Arafat, told reporters in London that French scientists had ruled out the possibility that Arafat was poisoned with polonium-210.

Case settled? Not quite. This piece of news just means that the three teams tasked with the investigation have come to three different conclusions:

-- Back in November, the Swiss team that tested Arafat's remains said they found evidence to "moderately support" the theory that his 2004 death "was the consequence of poisoning with polonium-210."

-- A few days after that, Palestinian officials said a report from a Russian team was inconclusive. The officials said the Russians found Arafat's death "was not caused by old age or disease, but as a result of a toxic substance." The Russians have not officially released their findings.

Al Jazeera, which has follows this case closer than anyone else, has this to say about the French team:

"According to the forensic report presented in Paris to Suha Arafat, the widow of the late Palestinian leader, and her lawyer, Saad Djabbar, French investigators found traces of the radioactive element polonium 210, but concluded that Arafat died of natural causes. ...

"At a press conference in Paris on Tuesday evening, Suha Arafat and her lawyer said the French report found similar levels of polonium 210 as the Swiss, but investigators in Paris came to different conclusions. 'There's a differing interpretation,' Suha Arafat said through an interpreter. 'Is it the poisoned body that would have contaminated the environment outside? Or is it the opposite?

"'The first one is the conclusion of the Swiss,' Suha Arafat continued. 'The Swiss think that the body was poisoned and contaminated the environment. And the French reach the opposite conclusion - that it's actually the environment outside which explains the presence of polonium 210.'"

As Mark detailed, Arafat was exhumed in November of 2012 and then tested his ribs and pelvis bones as well as the soil that "absorbed his leaked bodily fluids."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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