Exhuming Arafat: Palestinian Leader May Have Been Poisoned With Polonium

 @JaceyFortin
on July 04 2012 12:57 PM
  • Ceremony Marking Anniversary Of Arafat's Death
    A Palestinian holds up a poster depicting late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during a ceremony marking the anniversary of his death, in the West Bank city of Hebron. Reuters
  • Arafat Mausoleum
    Two separate investigation teams probing into the death of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will exhume his remains in November, from his mausoleum in Ramallah, West Bank. Reuters
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The Palestinian National Authority announced Wednesday that the body of its late leader, Yasser Arafat, will be exhumed from its mausoleum in Ramallah.

The decision follows a recent finding that Arafat's clothing contained abnormally high levels of polonium-210, a radioactive element that can be fatal. Now, many Palestinians are wondering whether he may have been poisoned by political enemies -- a suspicion that has been afloat ever since he died in 2004, at the age of 75.

The polonium-tainted clothing was given to Al Jazeera by Arafat's widow, Suha Arafat, and analyzed by a Swiss institute. The findings were released in an Al Jazeera documentary.

Within the next few days, officials said to Reuters, the body will be removed from its tomb and examined to see if polonium could have led to Arafat's fatal stroke eight years ago.

Arafat was a polemic figure who played a leading role in one of the most controversial conflicts of modern history: the Palestinians' struggle against Israel.

Palestinians currently have administrative control over areas of the West Bank, which are being encroached upon by the expansion of Israeli settlements, and the Gaza Strip, which is run by the radical Islamist group Hamas, and where overcrowding and sanctions have contributed to endemic poverty.

For Palestinians today, Arafat is generally -- though not universally -- revered as stalwart advocate for Palestinian sovereignty. He was the founder and longtime leader of Fatah, the political party that now heads up the Palestinian government on the West Bank.

A natural leader who often seemed loath to share power even with his allies, Arafat dominated the Palestinian movement from the 1970s and rose to the presidency of the Palestinian National Authority in 1996, under the Oslo Accords with Israel.

Arafat had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his willingness to negotiate with Israel. During the early years of his presidency, many of the more radical Palestinians, especially those allied to Hamas, censured him for what they perceived as kowtowing to Western and Israeli interests.  

Conversely, Arafat was long considered a terrorist by Israel and the West. He led several bloody campaigns against Israel before accepting its right to exist in 1988, after which point he continued to fail to stop Palestinian suicide bomb attacks on Israeli soil.

In 2000, when a much-vaunted series of U.S.-sponsored talks between Israel and Palestine disintegrated, Arafat was censured by the West for refusing to compromise and criticized by many Palestinians for failing to reach a solution.

So when Arafat fell ill in 2004, he had enemies on all sides. He complained of stomach pains on Oct. 20, and was flown to Paris for medical treatment on Oct. 29.

Arafat was reported to have died of a stroke due to a blood disorder, which itself was attributed to an undiagnosed infection. Blood toxicology studies were conducted, but no poisonous metals or drugs were found in Arafat's bloodstream at the time.

No full autopsy was performed, leaving many questions unanswered. Now, the presence of polonium on Arafat's possessions has heightened longstanding suspicions in Palestine.

Polonium is a rare, radioactive element that is very difficult to produce. Poisoning by polonium, therefore, is thought to be possible only for large, resource-rich organizations -- like governments. That has led many Palestinians to blame the Israeli government, which possesses polonium, for conspiring to kill Arafat.

We believed all along Yasser Arafat was assassinated and now we have evidence that polonium was used and we are willing to co-operate in any way necessary with investigations to get to the truth, said Palestinian Liberation Organization official Hanan Ashrawi on Wednesday, according to the Guardian. She pointed to Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister at the time of Arafat's death and his nemesis for decades, as a suspect.

We suspect those people in the region with access to polonium and we suspect the people who attempted to blow up his headquarters, continued Ashrawi. We have circumstantial evidence indicating Israel -- now we need concrete criminal evidence.

Israeli officials have so far labeled these accusations as baseless conspiracies. 

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