Arafat Poisoning Report Ambiguous and Inconclusive

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Lefteris Pitarakis / AP

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat pauses during the weekly Muslim Friday prayers in his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah on May 31, 2002

Yasser Arafat lived in ambiguity and died under circumstances shrouded in mystery and rumor. Should it come as any great surprise that the outcome of a scientific inquiry into the cause of his demise turned out to be something less than absolute as well?

The forensic examination of the Palestinian leader’s remains were released by his widow Suha on Tuesday, and immediately reported by al-Jazeera — the Arab satellite network that last year broke the news that Arafat’s clothes and personal effects contained suspicious traces of polonium 210, the radioactive isotope that killed Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.

Swiss scientists exhumed Arafat’s body last November and tested his skeleton and grave for telltale evidence of the isotope. The verdict, a full year later: “The results moderately support the proposition that the death was the consequence of poisoning with polonium 210.”

Such a moderate word, moderately. It isn’t strongly, and certainly not conclusively. Details of the forensic examination might well encourage belief in the poisoning theory, laid out in table form — pro and con — on page 67 of the 108-page report, and clearly accumulating on the pro side. But every page of the PDF posted online carries the watermark of al-Jazeera, a marketing move of dubious value for a news organization that provokes such strong reactions all by itself, and is heavily invested in the story.

Locked-room mysteries are supposed to end with satisfying clarity — an inescapable conclusion put forward by a scrupulously objective investigator to an assembled audience. Arafat’s death was a locked-room mystery three times over: the contaminated personal effects, according to his wife, “had been stored for eight years in a secured room at the fourth floor of her attorney’s office in Paris,” the forensic report says. His body — its skeleton diagramed in the forensic report — was entombed in a glossy mausoleum guarded by Palestinian sentries in downtown Ramallah since its 2004 interment.

And of course Arafat took ill in a locked room — barricaded in the Ramallah office where he’d spent two years during the second intifadeh besieged by Israeli tanks in the rubble of a nascent but still yet-to-be-born Palestinian state.

If he were poisoned, the question is: Who had the ability to slip it into his plate of chicken and rice?

Israel is the answer that leaps to many minds. Within hours of the al-Jazeera report, Palestinian advocates were circulating a partial list of Israeli assassinations of Palestinians. But spokesmen for the Israeli government have long denied any involvement publicly, and, privately, Israeli security officials have debated the question along with everyone else — not something that happens when, for instance, an Iranian nuclear scientist is rubbed out.

But suspicion also clings to Arafat’s inner circle. It’s a logical suspicion given the crucial question of access to his food — and the Swiss study assumes the polonium was ingested (which the report says might explain why, while he displayed other symptoms consistent with radiation poisoning, his hair did not fall out). Some analysts say the “insider” scenario is supported by the dire political situation at the time — the Palestinian cause was being held hostage with Arafat unbending at its helm, leading his people — many believed — nowhere.

On Tuesday, the abiding intrigue was heightened not only by the Swiss scientists’ report, but also by the way it came to light. Instead of being released by the Palestinian Authority, which had allowed the exhumation of Arafat’s remains, it came out on al-Jazeera, where his widow declared: “This is the crime of the century.” It made headlines on independent Palestinian outlets like Ma’an. But the 9 p.m. newscast of Palestine TV carried not a word. Conspiracy theorists were left to their own devices on the reason why.

“These results should be taken with a few grains of salt,” Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told the Guardian, which also had a piece of the story. “This story is still as mysterious as it was on Day One.”

— With reporting by Rami Nazzal / Ramallah

31 comments
Karl
Karl

THERE MAY BE A SMOKING GUN. 

Little was known about polonium poisoning when Arafat died mysteriously, but according to the Wikipedia entry under "POLONIUM" there was one country that had a tragic discovery of this radioactive poison's lethal power, that country was Israel (other nations including Russia and China may also have had similar tragic instances but we don't know about them. Quote from Wikipedia;

 According to the book The Bomb in the Basement, several deaths in Israel during 1957–1969 were caused by 210Po.[87] A leak was discovered at a Weizmann Institute laboratory in 1957. Traces of 210Po were found on the hands of professor Dror Sadeh, a physicist who researched radioactive materials. Medical tests indicated no harm, but the tests did not include bone marrow. Sadeh died from cancer. One of his students died of leukemia, and two colleagues died after a few years, both from cancer. The issue was investigated secretly, and there was never any formal admission that a connection between the leak and the deaths had existed.[88]

BUT COULD THERE BE A SMOKING GUN?, a piece of evidence like President Clinton's DNA found on Monica Lewinsky's famous blue dress? Perhaps so, again according to sources cited in Wikipedia's entry on the "Poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko",

"The analysis of impurities in the polonium (a kind of "finger print") allows to identify the place of production."

 The polonium found in Arafat's remains perhaps can be traced by its' "fingerprint" back to a date and site in one of the half dozen nuclear powers, it could have come from the USA, from Russia, or from Israel. It's taken years to get this far and may take years to track down the source of this polonium. But unless important parties intrude into the process we may know exactly where this radioactive poisoning came from. The prime minister of Israel at the time of Arafat's death was Ariel Sharon, he according to Bloomberg writer Jeffrey Goldberg was vocal about his wish to see Arafat killed. But Sharon is immune to any questions, he's been in a vegetative coma following an operation for eight years now.



YehudaElyada
YehudaElyada

If, after 8 years of exponential decay of Polonium 210 Arafat remains contain 18 times the normal amount of the radioactive substance, than on his dying bed his body contained no less than 30,000,000 times the normal. At that dosage he'd glow in the dark and kill by radiation everyone entering his rooms within few minutes. So, we must conclude that the Polonium was added to his remains and belongings only recently – which would clearly be a useless expensive from an Israeli point of view. But implying murder is very useful for his widow who wants to keep the massive stolen funds Arafat left for her in Euro-confidential bank accounts. There is enough in these accounts to buy the Polonium, pay for the secret contamination of the remains, rent the service of the laboratories and arrange for Al Jazeera to spread the news. Suha Arafat is a very rich widow of a man who never earned much in legitimate business.

JasonBournne
JasonBournne

I thought the HIV killed him. Like a good muslim he loved him some little boys.

tregslist
tregslist

The quality, honesty, and professionalism of this article is significantly lower than any other article i've read on the topic. get your act together TIME, and don't rely on biased reporters. 

porkx
porkx

after 9 years there is zero chance that any detectable amount of polonium would be present. a lethal dose is less than 1 microgram. litvinenko was poisoned with 10 micrograms. given a 138 day half life, after 9 years there would be less than one eleven millionth of the original amount left. less than one picogram distributed throughout the entire body if he had ingested the same massive dose as litvinenko.

bijutoha
bijutoha

Arafat Always tried to get a Freedom for humanity. 

SwiftrightRight
SwiftrightRight

"Moderately support"? The dude had 18 times the lethal dose of a rare and deadly radio isotope. Polonium is not like nightshade or lead,   you don't accident get exposed and there is almost zero present in the environment.


Lets be honest here AJ is crushing Time abroad and is invading Time's home market and snarky crap like this article is not helping you.

HermonBenIsrael
HermonBenIsrael

And, yet, other news reports coming from the region indicate that the man contracted AIDS, probably from one of the boys who used to frequent his chamber, and this "poisoning" story is just that, a story designed to cover up on the lifestyle the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) used to lead.

Kalyan
Kalyan

The comment about al-Jazeera is in bad taste and shows the american bias of Time. Also, the remark that the Swiss report was reported only in al-Jazeera is far from true. It was also reported in BBC in great detail and in same tone as in al-Jazeera. Is Time trying to cover up US dirty hand in Arafat;s death?

JohnKovacich
JohnKovacich

arafat?? well he stand to lose a few pounds.

aztecian
aztecian

he was one of the world's greatest leaders and nobel peace prize winner to prove it. 

DarrellReeves
DarrellReeves

It is moot how this s.o.b. of a sociopath met his demise.  Arafat was a worthless piece of human debris who caused nothing but angst and horror in the middle east.  I only wish that the Mossad had taken his homicidal ass out of existence years ago.  Just ask all of the innocent civilians that were murdered by his hand and command.  A pox on him and his family.

rosey1
rosey1

Arafat was an ugly man by any metric you choose.

sanjosemike

JustinMichels
JustinMichels

So, let's get this straight:  your reasoning that this is "inconclusive" is because the documents in question have watermarks from Al Jazeera; which happens to be a major competitor for Time's dwindling readership.  But, you appear to have complete faith in the statements coming from Israel's government officials...  And, somehow, you think this is going to help your publication's level of respect from a rightly jaded public?  Welcome to the 21st century, a$$holes! 

RB1
RB1

How sad that Time is such a low standard of journalism!  I suppose that there is some financial or empowerment reward for reporting such hogwash!  Shame on you!!  The only ambiguity present here is your lack of character to report the truth above political interests!

KristinJohanssen
KristinJohanssen

There's nothing ambiguous about this.   He was assassinated.   

Let's see, which government would want to do that?? hmmm....

Karl
Karl

Anything coming from Israeli sources on this subject are suspect and a news story about the probable murder of Arafat by Israelis that concludes with a quote from an Israeli government minister does a disservice to the whole notion of a free and objective press. Your headline is ambiguous. There is nothing ambiguous about 18 times normal levels of radioactive polonium being found in Arafat's remains. Yes, shame on Time. We have a free press in the Western World? Not on all subjects and certainly not when they touch issues too sensitive to allow objective news reporting to interfere. And Western leaders and media whine about the blatant bias in other countries'  media but here we have the underhanded version of bias. The bias of a closed society and media, not by government censures but by the  fear of editors to come between publishers with an agenda, and also public preconceptions, and biases,  and reporters all too willing to serve them. And so the public's ignorance, bias and inability to support any  US President in his quest to solve the Israeli Peace Process successfully. 

bbsnews
bbsnews

What a hack job Karl. Forgive me but I read, and re-read, and read again and I could find no copy about the interviews you did with the Swiss principles. 

I did read a lot of political propaganda that looked like it was designed, from the headline with no quotes, right on down to the meat of the story nothing but a political hack job.

Shame on Time. Whatever happened to such a stalwart source of real hard news?


bbsnews
bbsnews

@YehudaElyada Gosh "Yehuda", well you just rock on over there to the Swiss and tell them how they have it all wrong.

Be sure and include your made-up conspiracy theory crap. And then they will laugh you right out the door and you will be lucky if you are not arrested and put under mental evaluation to make sure you are not a danger to yourself or others...

You Hasbarians have a screw loose.

ricardo_lion
ricardo_lion

@bijutoha   Freedom in the ME only in the 0,00000000000...1% of the region, the 20% of Palestine called Israel.  No freedom in those judenrein Muslim Arab bloody dictatorships and medieval kingdoms that declared war on the only democratic and civilized country.  Egyptian Muslim Arab Arafat was just a terrorist and killed more Arabs than Jews.

billorights
billorights

@SwiftrightRight 

Let's be honest here...

CIA/MI6 are trying to stir-up old wounds between Israel and Russia because the Obama administration will never survive the remainder of the Snowden leaks.  Not without suspending the first amendment, anyway.  I can't WAIT for them to do that.  That'll go over well.

:  )


Almost sounds like you're an AJ fan, Sparky.

billorights
billorights

@Kalyan 

LOL...

First of all, what's wrong with slamming Al Jazeera?  You think Qatar is all about happy unicorns?

Ask them about their $550 BILLION deal with Boeing, their financing of a third international airport in Istanbul and their $100 Million contribution to the Mexican government, in order to 'promote Mexican tourism'.

What do you suppose the world will look like with 2,500 cargo-configured 787s, flying multiple, daily, non-stop flights between Istanbul, Mexico City and Mogadishu?  Perhaps a lot like Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq?   Were it not for the Egyptian military, Egypt would look the same way as well.

Qatar, the nation of 250-300,000 Qataris and 2,000,000 South Asian slaves.

Qatar, the biggest supporter of al Quaeda on the planet.

Tell you what...I'm O.K. with slamming al Jazeera.


bbsnews
bbsnews

@DarrellReeves The same can be said of Ariel Sharon. Or any number of other Israeli terrorists.

Would you like a list? Should I just start with recently or would you like to start with the murder of 91 by Jewish Terrorists at the King David Hotel?


ricardo_lion
ricardo_lion

@KristinJohanssen   Hamas people?  Or other Arabs.  For every Arab Israel killed in self defense (for those bloody dictatorships, medieval kingdoms and jihadi groups declared war, not the other way around), the Arabs themselves killed a thousand in their endless civil wars, not to mention the 300,000 black Christians murdered in Darfur.  Those savages even kill their own daughters and sisters for "honour", Johanssen (Jewish name).

vynstal43
vynstal43

@KristinJohanssen OH PLEASE everyone even his inner circle said in now surely sanitized reports he died of aids related complications, it was a known secret that he liked little boys and got it from one of them.

ricardo_lion
ricardo_lion

@bbsnews @DarrellReeves   Not that I approve of, but the King David Hotel was being used by the British as a military HQ, a war crime.  The files of those Jews the British were seeking to hang were kept there and this was the reason it was bombed.  The British were warned, but refused to evacuate the building.  The British army of occupation was sending both Arabs and Jews to the gallows everyday.  Terrorsim.

bbsnews
bbsnews

@fcint690 @bbsnews @YehudaElyadaA Hasbarian deflectocon.

I loves me a good deflectocon.

It is  matter of Israeli press record going back a number of years now. There is an Israeli army that are paid propagandists who populate threads like these with trolls just like yours.

So let's test your seriousness. Please name the laws that Israel is in violation of and then in like fashion I will happily name the international laws that the US is in violation of.

And I can assure you, both the US and Israel are terrified of being hauled in front of the ICC, Israel far more obviously.

So go on then. let's see your mettle. Prove you are not a troll.

Then I will happily engage you with facts. I'll  match you fact for fact and we'll see where it leads.

If you dare.

fcint690
fcint690

@bbsnews @ricardo_lion @DarrellReeves  Oh I suppose for Zionophobes, indiscriminate suicide homicide at a communal Passover seder with mainly elderly people, and in buses and restaraunts etc has the same moral equivalence as a military H Q.  Idiocy works both ways.