Yasser Arafat, Executive Committee Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), addressed the International Conference on the question of Palestine September 2, 1983, following which general debate resumed on ways for the …
LAUSSANNE, Switzerland - Scientific tests have found unusually high levels of the radioactive substance polonium-210 in some of the personal effects of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, one of the scientists involved in the study said Wednesday.
The results do not mean that Arafat suffered radiation poisoning, said François Bochud, director of the Institut de Radiophysique in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Some details in Arafat's medical records are not consistent with polonium poisoning, he explained.
"We have evidence there is too much polonium, but we also have hints from the medical records that this may not be the case. The only way to resolve this anomaly would be by testing the body," Bochud said.
His research team tested Arafat's toothbrush, clothing and keffiyeh, the trademark black-and-white scarf he always wore, Bochud said.
The Palestinian Authority has no objections to having Arafat's body exhumed and tested by reliable scientific authorities if his family approves, spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said.
There is no religious or political reason that would prevent further research into the issue, including examination of the remains, the Palestinian news agency WAFA cited him as saying.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ordered a committee investigating Arafat's death to follow up on all reports "and to seek assistance from Arab and international experts to find the truth behind Arafat's illness and death," Rudeineh said.
It should be possible to measure any remaining polonium in Arafat's body despite the length of time since his death because he was buried in a tomb, not underground, Bochud said.
Arafat died in 2004 at the age of 75 at a military hospital in France. He had flown to Paris two weeks earlier for the treatment of a blood disorder, Palestinian officials said at the time.
Arafat's widow, Suha, asked the Swiss institute to analyze some of his belongings and medical documents, Bochud said.
The Qatar-based satellite network Al Jazeera relayed the request and broadcast a report about the tests Tuesday.
There was no evidence of traditional poison, Bochud said. Al Jazeera and the family then asked him to test for radioactive material, he said.
They found an "unexplained amount of polonium-210," he said, cautioning: "We are testing tiny quantities so it is difficult to measure and not conclusive."
A stain from body fluid included 180 megabecquerels of the substance per liter, while a typical sample would contain 5 megabecquerels, Bochud said. The fabric of his clothing itself, without body fluid, contained less than 10 megabecquerels. A becquerel is a measurement of radioactive intensity by weight.
Several tests involving biological samples — such as urine, sweat or blood — contained higher levels than other samples in the same bag, he said.
Arafat's clothes were inside a sports bag, which his widow said she had left them in since they were returned from the hospital eight years ago, Bochud said.
It was not immediately clear whether anything that happened to the clothes — over the years or in the testing process — may have affected the result of the tests.
When asked whether some polonium-210 could have been applied to the items since Arafat's death, Bochud responded that "anything is possible."
Bochud also said the Institut de Radiophysique did not verify that the clothing was Arafat's. Another organization said the DNA on the items matched that of Arafat's daughter, Bochud said.
Former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko died of polonium poisoning in London in 2006.
But it's hard to compare the cases of Arafat and Litvinenko, who was diagnosed when he was alive, Bochud said.
Arafat's condition at the time he died was not entirely consistent with polonium poisoning, Bochud said.
"For example, the bone marrow stayed in good shape until (the) death of Arafat. In other cases of polonium poisoning there is a decaying of the bone marrow," the medical expert said. "Another point, he did not lose his hair as would be expected in the case of polonium (poisoning)."
Scientists performed more than 50 measurements on the belongings between February and June, he said.
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