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 were true: Arafat was in good health until he suddenly fell ill on October 12, 2004.
More importantly, tests reveal 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 analyzed 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
According to the report, Russian spy-turned-dissident Alexander Litvinenko, who died in London in 2006 under suspicious circumstances, was found to have been poisoned with polonium slipped into his tea.
Arafat suffered similar symptoms to Litvinenko prior to his death – severe diarrhea, weight loss, and vomiting, according to the report.
Palestinians and Arabs have charged in the past that Israel poisoned Arafat. Some PA leaders have suggested that former Fatah official Mohammed Dahlan assisted Israel in the poisoning.
The Al Jazeera commissioned study of Arafat’s belongings did not reveal any traces of common heavy metals or conventional poisons, so they turned their attention to more obscure elements, discovering the high levels of polonium, according to the report.