Radioactive poisoningYasser Arafat was not poisoned: French investigators

Published 5 December 2013

French scientific and medical experts rule out possibility that Palestinian leader was poisoned by radioactive polonium-210. A Russian medical team examining tissue samples taken from Arafat’s body reached the same conclusion three months ago. The conclusions of a Swiss medical team were more ambiguous. Leaders of the Palestinian Authority began accusing Israel of poisoning Arafat even before he died, as his health was rapidly declining. Israel has consistently denied the accusation, describing it as “unreasonable and unsupported by facts.”

Yasser Arafat shortly before his death in 2004 // Source:

French investigators have concluded that the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died of natural causes. A team of scientific and medical experts said that Arafat’s death in 2004 was due to “old age following a generalized infection.” The researchers ruled out allegations he was poisoned.

A team of Swiss scientists had earlier reported it had found “unexpectedly high activity” of radioactive polonium-210 in Arafat’s body and personal effects, including his clothing, leading his widow and the Palestinian Authority to charge that he was assassinated, probably by the Mossad.

Le Figaro reports that on Tuesday, the much-anticipated report by the French investigators asserted that Arafat could not have died of radioactive poisoning, but that traces of polonium had been found.

One of the French scientists said: “The results of the analyses allow us to conclude that the death was not the result of poisoning.”

The conclusions of the French team contradict what appeared to be the more ambiguous conclusions of the Swiss team, which said it was not impossible to believe that Arafat had been poisoned. The Swiss team reached this conclusion after finding polonium levels up to eighteen times higher than expected in some of Arafat’s personal effects.

The Guardian reports that the Swiss stopped short of categorically stating the radioactive substance had killed him.

Still, a member of the Swiss team, professor François Bochud, the director of the Institut de radiophysique appliquée de Lausanne, told Figaro: “On ne peut pas affirmer que le polonium a été la source de la mort d’Arafat, mais on ne peut pas l’exclure,” allowing different parties to read different meanings into the Swiss team’s conclusions.

Arafat’s widow, Suha, on Tuesday expressed her dismay at the contradictory conclusions of the Swiss and French teams, both of which had examined the same personal effects and the same samples from Arafat’s body (the body was exhumed earlier this year in order to allow harvesting of tissues for examination).

Suha pointed out, though, that both the Swiss and the French teams had reported higher than normal levels of polonium-210 and lead-210 in the samples.

There is a doubt and that doubt is, did the poison in the body contaminate the outside environment, which is the conclusion of the French team? Or did something in the outside environment contaminate the body?” she told a press conference in Paris.