What or who killed Arafat?
This posting has 5 items:
1) Report by Al Jazeera;
2) Explainer, What is polonium;
3) Reuters, Palestinian response;
4) Ma’an, family fears and suspicions;
5) Uri Avnery, not surprised at death of his friend;
A woman walks past a mural depictingYasser Arafat in Gaza City on July 4. (Reuters/Mohammed Salem)
What Killed Arafat?
An investigation into the mysterious death of the late Palestinian leader reveals that he may have been poisoned.
05 Jul 2012
It was a scene that riveted the world for weeks: The ailing Yasser Arafat, first besieged by Israeli tanks in his Ramallah compound, then shuttled to Paris, where he spent his final days undergoing a barrage of medical tests in a French military hospital.
Eight years after his death, it remains a mystery exactly what killed the longtime Palestinian leader. Tests conducted in Paris found no obvious traces of poison in Arafat’s system. Rumors abound about what might have killed him – cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, even allegations that he was infected with HIV.
A nine-month investigation by Al Jazeera has revealed that none of those rumors was true: Arafat was in good health until he suddenly fell ill on October 12, 2004.
Tests have revealed that Arafat’s final personal belongings – his clothes, his toothbrush, even his iconic kaffiyeh – contained abnormal levels of polonium, a rare, highly radioactive element. Those personal effects, which were analysed at the Institut de Radiophysique in Lausanne, Switzerland, were variously stained with Arafat’s blood, sweat, saliva and urine. The tests carried out on those samples suggested that there was a high level of polonium inside his body when he died.
The findings have led Suha Arafat, his widow, to ask the Palestinian Authority to exhume her late husband’s body from its grave in Ramallah.
But a conclusive finding that Arafat was poisoned with polonium would not explain who killed him. It is a difficult element to produce, though – it requires a nuclear reactor – and the signature of the polonium in Arafat’s bones could provide some insight about its origin.
What Killed Arafat?
Explainer: What is polonium?
Background on the rare and highly radioactive substance found in Yasser Arafat’s final personal belongings.
July 03, 2012
What is polonium?
Polonium is a rare and highly radioactive element. It is found naturally in the atmosphere and in the earth’s crust, though in miniscule quantities. Marie Curie discovered the element in the late 19th century.
It has dozens of isotopes. One of the most common is polonium-210, which emits highly radioactive alpha particles; this was the isotope found on Yasser Arafat’s personal effects, according to Al Jazeera’s investigation.
Because of its radioactivity, polonium has been used as a trigger for nuclear weapons, and as a power source for satellites and other spacecraft. The Russian space program used it to heat rovers that landed on the Moon in the 1970s.
Has it been used as a poison before?
Yes, at least once. Polonium was used to kill Alexander Litvinenko, a onetime Russian spy turned dissident.
Litvinenko was in good health until November 1, 2006, when he suddenly became sick and was hospitalized. He initially suffered from severe diarrhea and vomiting; the hospital diagnosed him with a stomach infection.
His condition continued to worsen, though. Doctors discovered that his white blood cell count had plummeted, making him susceptible to infection.
“His skin had turned yellow, indicating liver dysfunction, and he was tested for the two most likely causes, hepatitis and AIDS, but neither was the case,” John Emsley wrote in Molecules of Murder, which includes a chapter on polonium poisoning. “Then his hair began to fall out.”
Doctors eventually decided that Litvinenko was suffering from radiation poisoning, and further tests identified polonium as the culprit.
Polonium is also believed to have killed several other people, including Curie’s daughter Irene, and two people working on Israel’s nuclear program.
What are the symptoms of polonium poisoning?
Because there have been so few recorded cases, there is not much scientific literature on the subject.
The handful of human cases, as well as animal studies, suggest symptoms similar to other forms of radiation poisoning – vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss, a low white blood cell count. Traces of the poison reach vital organs like the liver and heart, and cause those organs to fail.
How is polonium produced?
It occurs naturally in uranium ores, but at extremely small concentrations, as low as 100 micrograms per ton of ore.
Rather than laboriously extracting it from uranium, modern-day manufacturers create polonium in nuclear reactors, by bombarding bismuth with neutrons. Most of the world’s polonium supply is produced in Russia.
By Jeffrey Heller and Dan Williams, Reuters
July 04, 2012
JERUSALEM – New suspicions that Yasser Arafat was murdered, perhaps poisoned by radioactive polonium, prompted the Palestinian Authority on Wednesday to agree to exhume the body of the iconic leader.
Israel, seen by many Arabs as the prime suspect behind the mysterious illness that killed the 75-year-old Arafat in 2004, sought to distance itself anew from the death of the man who led Palestinians’ bid for a state through years of war and peace.
A Swiss institute which examined clothing provided by Arafat’s widow Suha for a documentary by Qatar-based Al Jazeera television said its radiation protection experts had found “surprisingly” high levels of polonium-210, the same substance found to have killed a former Russian spy in London in 2006.
But it said symptoms described in the president’s medical reports were not consistent with the radioactive agent.
“I want the world to know the truth about the assassination of Yasser Arafat,” Suha Arafat, 48, told Al Jazeera, without making any direct accusations, but noting that both Israel and the United States saw him as an obstacle to peace.
Allegations of foul play – and of Palestinian involvement in it – have long marked factional fighting among Palestinians. The latest revelation coincides with renewed tensions within Arafat’s Fatah movement, now headed by his successor President Mahmoud Abbas, and between Fatah and Hamas, the Islamist movement which controls the Gaza Strip.
Abbas’s administration said it would approve Suha Arafat’s request to bring her husband’s remains out for autopsy from a limestone mausoleum built next to his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, without giving a date for such a move.
“The Authority, as it always has been, is ready to completely cooperate with and clear the way for an investigation into the true causes leading to the martyrdom of the late president,” said Nabil Abu Rdeineh, spokesman for Abbas.
Saeb Erekat, a senior member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), told Reuters the exhumation could take place as soon as “religious and family procedures” were complete.
“If you ask me, it’s a matter of a days, not more than a few days,” he said. “Then we will be in contact with the Swiss team or any other team that could come and exhume the body.”
Confined by Israel to his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah for three years after a Palestinian uprising erupted, an ailing Arafat collapsed in October 2004.
Foreign doctors flocked to his bedside from Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan amid public assurances from Arafat’s aides over the next two weeks that he was suffering from no more than the flu.
But looking weak and thin – and telling aides “God willing, I will be back” – he was airlifted to a military hospital in France, where he slipped into a coma and died on November 11, 2004.
At the time, rumours flew that he had died from anything from stomach cancer to poisoning to AIDS. French doctors who treated Arafat in his final days said they could not establish the cause of death. French officials, citing privacy laws, refused to give details of the nature of his illness.
Israel denied involvement in Arafat’s death and the head of its Shin Bet intelligence service at the time, Avi Dichter, said on Wednesday it was for Palestinians to investigate: “The body is in their hands. It is in Ramallah, and really, all the keys are in their hands,” he told Israel’s Army Radio.
Polonium, apparently ingested with food, was found to have caused the slow death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. At high doses, polonium-210 causes damage to organs and tissues. Britain tried and failed to extradite from Russia a suspect who was a former Kremlin security officer.
Israeli Army Radio said introducing polonium into food was the only way to kill someone with the poison and asked Dichter, whose agency had overall responsibility for monitoring the Palestinians, whether it would have been possible with Arafat.
“You’re asking me as his cook?” he answered, laughing.
He continued: “No, we were focused on more serious things. Arafat’s food did not interest us. I think it interested those around him, in order, really, to keep his health up, as he was indeed known to be unwell. But the Shin Bet, or the State of Israel, were not involved in Yasser Arafat’s food.”
Pressed on the poisoning scenario, Dichter said: “Yasser Arafat had many enemies, domestically, abroad. But let them investigate … The Palestinians know well how to investigate what goes on in their house. Let them investigate and find out.”
A Hamas official, Salah Al-Bardaweel, called for an investigation, suggesting Palestinians might have helped Israel kill him, calling them “sinful hands that cooperated or facilitated the occupier’s mission to get these poisonous materials into the body of President Arafat”.
Commenting on the Al Jazeera report, Paddy Regan, professor of nuclear physics at Britain’s University of Surrey, said “there is not enough information in the public domain to be clear about whether polonium-210 was, or indeed could have been, the cause of death”.
Regan said there could be several other explanations, such as naturally occurring radioactivity, for the high readings on Arafat’s clothing. He said all such “natural sources” must be ruled out before concluding polonium-210 was “a murder weapon”.
In 1997, Israeli assassins were caught trying to poison a senior member of Hamas in Jordan. Israel is also suspected in the 2010 death in a Dubai hotel room of a Hamas commander, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who UAE authorities said had been drugged.
Suha Arafat, who lives in Malta and France and whose lavish lifestyle abroad has made her a controversial figure among Palestinians, said determining there had been a plot to kill her husband “will glorify more his legacy” and harden Palestinian resolve in any future negotiations with Israel.
U.S.-sponsored peace talks collapsed in 2010 in a dispute over Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank.
“Arafat wanted to arrive with the Palestinian cause to a Palestinian state, and because of this they got rid of him,” she said, without elaborating.
Israel’s foreign minister in 2004, Silvan Shalom, rejected at the time as “scandalous and false” the idea that his country had a role in Arafat’s death. But Israel had earlier threatened Arafat, blaming him for Palestinian violence.
After losing 15 citizens to suicide bombings in September 2003, Israel’s security cabinet decided to “remove” Arafat, without elaborating publicly on the precise action it planned to take. An Israeli newspaper quoted Dichter as saying at the time that it would be better to kill Arafat than exile him.
Additional reporting by Noah Browning and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah
Arafat’s nephew: Body should be exhumed if necessary
July 07, 2012
BETHLEHEM — The nephew of Yasser Arafat said Thursday that the late president’s body must be exhumed if necessary to determine the true cause of his death.
Nasser al-Qudwa, who heads the Yasser Arafat Foundation, met with President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris on Thursday and discussed new allegations that Arafat was poisoned with the radioactive element polonium-210 in 2004.
Al-Qudwa told Ma’an that Arafat’s family and the Palestinian people were convinced the iconic leader was murdered. He said an investigation must be carried out to establish who was responsible for Arafat’s death, involving international institutions and exhuming the body if necessary.
A Swiss institute that examined clothing provided by Arafat’s widow Suha as part of an Al Jazeera expose said it found “surprisingly” high levels of polonium-210, though symptoms described in the president’s medical reports were not consistent with the radioactive agent.
The Palestinian Authority said it would approve Suha Arafat’s request to exhume Arafat’s body from a limestone mausoleum in Ramallah for an autopsy.
‘Lack of cooperation’ hampered earlier inquiry
Palestinian Legislative Council member Hasan Khreisheh said Thursday that Palestinian and Arab officials had refused to cooperate with a 2004 inquiry into Arafat’s death.
Khreisheh, who was head of the PLC in 2004, was involved in setting up a special committee to investigate the cause of Arafat’s death.
The two-month investigation, headed by Abdul Jawad Saleh, failed to reach a conclusion because officials, as well as Arafat’s family and those close to him, refused to disclose information, Khreisheh said.
Arafat’s doctor Ashraf Kurd and Egyptian and Tunisian doctors refused to make any statements to the commission because of pressure by authorities in their countries, Khreisheh added.
The evidence suggested a regional agreement not to support an investigation into the cause of Arafat’s death, the PLC member said.
Chief Islamic judge approves autopsy
Taysir Tamimi, the Palestinian Authority’s chief Islamic judge, said Thursday that Arafat’s body should be exhumed to determine the reason for his death.
Tamimi was present when Arafat died in a military hospital in France on Nov. 11, 2004. He told Ma’an that when he washed Arafat four hours after he died the president was still bleeding from his head and several parts of his body.
The sheikh said one of Arafat’s doctors told him at the time that the bleeding was an indication of poison which prevented the blood from clotting. He pointed to Israeli threats to Arafat in 2004 as a sign that the leader was killed by Israel.
In 2003, Israel’s security cabinet decided to “remove” Arafat, without elaborating publicly on the precise action it planned to take. An Israeli newspaper quoted Avi Dichter, Israel’s spy chief at the time, as saying that it would be better to kill Arafat than exile him.
In 1997, Israeli assassins were caught trying to poison Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal in Jordan. Israel is also suspected in the 2010 death in a Dubai hotel room of a Hamas commander, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, who UAE authorities said had been drugged.
By Uri Avnery, Gush Shalom
July 7, 2012
FOR ME, there was no surprise. From the very first day, I was convinced that Yasser Arafat had been poisoned by Ariel Sharon. I even wrote about it several times.
It was a simple logical conclusion.
First, a thorough medical examination in the French military hospital where he died did not find any cause for his sudden collapse and death. No traces of any life-threatening disease were found.
The rumors distributed by the Israeli propaganda machine that Arafat had AIDS were blatant lies. They were a continuation of the rumors spread by the same machine that he was gay – all part of the relentless demonization of the Palestinian leader, which went on daily for decades.
When there is no obvious cause of death, there must be a less obvious one.
Second, we know by now that several secret services possess poisons that leave no routinely detectable trace. These include the CIA, the Russian FSB (successor of the KGB), and the Mossad.
Third, opportunities were plentiful. Arafat’s security arrangements were decidedly lax. He would embrace perfect strangers who presented themselves as sympathizers of the Palestinian cause and often seated them next to himself at meals.
Fourth, there were plenty of people who aimed at killing him and had the means to do so. The most obvious one was our prime minister, Ariel Sharon. He had even talked about Arafat having “no insurance policy” in 2004.
WHAT WAS previously a logical probability has now become a certainty.
An examination of his belongings commissioned by Aljazeera TV and conducted by a highly respected Swiss scientific institute has confirmed that Arafat was poisoned with Polonium, a deadly radioactive substance that avoids detection unless one specifically looks for it.
Two years after Arafat’s death, the Russian dissident and former KGB/FSB
officer Alexander Litvinenko was murdered in London by Russian agents using this poison. The cause was discovered by his doctors by accident. It took him three weeks to die.
Closer to home, in Amman, Hamas leader Khaled Mash’al was almost killed in 1997 by the Mossad, on orders of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The means was a poison that kills within days after coming into contact with the skin. The assassination was bungled and the victim’s life was saved when the Mossad was compelled, after an ultimatum from King Hussein, to provide an antidote in time.
If Arafat’s widow, Suha, succeeds in getting his body exhumed from the mausoleum in the Mukata’a in Ramallah, where it has become a national symbol, the poison will undoubtably be found in his body.
ARAFAT’S LACK of proper security arrangements always astonished me. Israeli Prime Ministers are tenfold better protected.
I remonstrated with him several times. He shrugged it off. In this respect, he was a fatalist. After his life was miraculously preserved when his airplane made a crash landing in the Libyan Desert and the people around him were killed, he was convinced that Allah was protecting him.
(Though the head of a secular movement with a clear secular program, he himself was an observant Sunni Muslim, praying at the proper times and abstaining from alcohol. He did not impose his piety on his assistants.)
Once he was interviewed in my presence in Ramallah. The journalists asked him if he expected to see the creation of the Palestinian state in his lifetime. His answer: “Both I and Uri Avnery will see it in our life.” He was quite sure of this.
ARIEL SHARON’S determination to kill Arafat was well known. Already during the siege of Beirut in Lebanon War I, it was no secret that agents were combing West Beirut for his whereabouts. To Sharon’s great frustration, they did not find him.
Even after Oslo, when Arafat came back to Palestine, Sharon did not let up. When he became Prime Minister, my fear for Arafat’s life became acute. When our army attacked Ramallah during “Operation Defensive Shield” they broke into Arafat’s compound (Mukata’a is Arabic for compound) and came within 10 meters of his rooms. I saw them with my own eyes.
Twice during the siege of many months my friends and I went to stay at the
Mukata’a for several days to serve as a human shield. When Sharon was asked why he did not kill Arafat, he answered that the presence of Israelis there made it impossible.
However, I believe that this was only a pretext. It was the US that forbade it. The Americans feared, quite rightly, that an open assassination would cause the whole Arab and Muslim world to explode in anti-American fury. I cannot prove it, but I am sure that Sharon was told by Washington: “On no condition are you allowed to kill him in a way that can be traced to you. If you can do it without leaving a trace, go ahead.”
(Just as the US Secretary of State told Sharon in 1982 that on no condition was he allowed to attack Lebanon, unless there was a clear and internationally recognized provocation. Which was promptly provided.)
In an eerie coincidence, Sharon himself was felled by a stroke soon after Arafat’s death, and has lived in a coma ever since.)
THE DAY Aljazeera’s conclusions were published this week happened to be the 30th anniversary of my first meeting with Arafat, which for him was the first meeting with an Israeli.
It was at the height of the battle of Beirut. To get to him, I had to cross the lines of four belligerents – the Israeli army, the Christian Lebanese Phalange militia, the Lebanese army and the PLO forces.
I spoke with Arafat for two hours. There, in the middle of a war, when he could expect to find his death at any moment, we talked about Israeli-Palestinian peace, and even a federation of Israel and Palestine, perhaps to be joined by Jordan.
The meeting, which was announced by Arafat’s office, caused a worldwide sensation. My account of the conversation was published in several leading newspapers.
On my way home, I heard on the radio that four cabinet ministers were demanding that I be put on trial for treason. The government of Menachem Begin instructed the Attorney General to open a criminal investigation.
However, after several weeks, the AG determined that I had not broken any law. (The law was duly changed soon afterwards.)
IN THE many meetings I held with Arafat since then, I became totally convinced that he was an effective and trustworthy partner for peace. I slowly began to understand how this father of the modern Palestinian liberation movement, considered an arch-terrorist by Israel and the US, became the leader of the Palestinian peace effort. Few people in history have been privileged to lead two successive revolutions in their lifetime.
When Arafat started his work, Palestine had disappeared from the map and from world consciousness. By using the “armed struggle” (alias “terrorism”)’ he succeeded in putting Palestine back on the world’s agenda.
His change of orientation occurred right after the 1973 war. That war, it will be remembered, started with stunning Arab successes and ended with a rout of the Egyptian and Syrian armies. Arafat, an engineer by profession, drew the logical conclusion: if the Arabs could not win an armed confrontation even in such ideal circumstances, other means had to be found. His decision to start peace negotiations with Israel went totally against the grain of the Palestinian National Movement, which considered Israel as a foreign invader. It took Arafat a full 15 years to convince his own people to accept his line, using all his wiles, tactical deftness and powers of persuasion. In the 1988 meeting of the Palestinian parliament-in-exile, the National Council, his concept was adopted: a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel in part of the country. This state, with its capital in East Jerusalem and its borders based on the Green Line has been, since then, the fixed and unchangeable goal; the legacy of Arafat to his successors.
Not by accident, my contacts with Arafat, first indirectly through his assistants and then directly, started at the same time: 1974. I helped him to establish contact with the Israeli leadership, and especially with Yitzhak Rabin. This led to the 1993 Oslo agreement – which was killed by the assassination of Rabin.
When asked if he had an Israeli friend, Arafat named me. This was based on his belief that I had risked my life when I went to see him in Beirut. On my part, I was grateful for his trust in me when he met me there, at a time when hundreds of Sharon’s agents were looking for him.
But beyond personal considerations, Arafat was the man who was able to make peace with Israel, willing to do so, and – more important – to get his people, including the Islamists, to accept it. This would have put an end to the settlement enterprise.
That’s why he was poisoned.