Was Yasser Arafat murdered with a fatal dose of poison by agents with Israel’s crack intelligence agency the Mossad or perhaps at the hands of professional assassins working for some other foreign or domestic enemy of the feisty Palestinian leader?
Maybe! But a definitive answer was delayed by a tardy forensics examination that was slowed by cultural taboos and a general reluctance to disturb the bodies of the dead and buried.
The first president of the Palestine National Authority and founder of Fatah, the paramilitary and political movement of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and longtime thorn in the side of the nation of Israel, Arafat took suddenly and violently ill on October 25, 2004. He began vomiting uncontrollably during a meeting.
Lapsed into a coma
Doctors at first believed he had the flu, but as his condition worsened medical teams were called in from Tunisia, Jordan and Egypt. Then after Israel agreed not to block his return to the Holy Land, he was flown by French government jet to a hospital near Paris. On November 3 he lapsed into a coma and eight days later he was dead at 75.
Doctors reported the cause of death as a stroke. Arafat’s wife, Suha, refused an autopsy and the body of the world’s best known advocate of Palestinian nationalism was flown back to his former compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah and entombed in a concrete-encased grave.
By that time rumors were already circulating around the Muslim world that Arafat was murdered, most likely on orders of his Israeli nemesis, Ariel Sharon.
Favorite tool of assassins
The job, many believed, was carried out by trained Mossad assassins using polonium-210. A highly radioactive element unavailable at local drug stores, polonium-210 is a favorite tool of government-trained killers. Two years after Arafat’s death Alexander Litvenko, a Russian KGB spy turned double agent working for the United Kingdom’s MI5, was assassinated in London with a dose of polonium-210 slipped into his tea.
Israeli authorities repeatedly denied they had anything to do with Arafat’s death, but the suspicions and rumors festered more than eight years.
Then a spokesmen for a Swiss laboratory reported that traces of polonium-210 were found in some of Arafat’s personal effects provided for analysis by family members. After some jockeying, Palestinian political leaders and Muslim religious leaders agreed to an exhumation of Arafat’s remains.
A few days after the eighth anniversary of Arafat’s death, a team of experts reportedly obtained samples from the body and began submitting them to laboratory analysis.
The results were inconclusive.
A Russian probe determined that Arafat’s death was not caused by radiation and that he died from natural causes. A French investigation found traces of polonium but said it was “of natural environmental origin,” according to Arafat’s widow. Swiss scientists, meanwhile, said they found elevated traces of polonium-210 and lead, and that the timeframe of Arafat’s illness and death was consistent with poisoning from ingesting polonium.