Russian experts rule out radiation poisoning in Arafat death
Published Thursday 26/12/2013 (updated) 27/12/2013 19:00
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat pictured in the West Bank city of Ramallah
on July 10, 2003 (AFP/File Jamal Aruri)
MOSCOW (AFP) -- Russian forensic experts studying the remains of Yasser Arafat on Thursday said the Palestinian leader died a natural death, ruling out radiation poisoning.
"We have completed all the studies," Vladimir Uiba, head of Russia's Federal Medical-Biological Agency (FMBA), told a news conference.
"The person died a natural death and not from radiation."
A Palestinian envoy, however, said the Palestinian authorities will press on with a probe into the 2004 death of Arafat.
I can only say that there is already a decision to continue (the investigation)," Faed Mustafa, the Palestinian ambassador to Russia, told the state RIA Novosti news agency.
"We respect their position, we highly value their work but there is a decision to continue work," he said. "We need a result, a final and concrete result to take the issue off the table."
A decision to ask the UN General Assembly to establish an international commission to investigate the circumstances of Arafat's death was taken at an Arab League meeting in Cairo on Saturday.
Arafat died in France on Nov. 11, 2004 at the age of 75, but doctors were unable to specify the cause of death. No autopsy was carried out at the time, in line with his widow's request.
His remains were exhumed in November 2012, partly to investigate whether he had been poisoned with radioactive polonium, a suspicion that grew after the substance was used to assassinate Russian ex-spy and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.
Some 60 samples were taken and divided between Swiss and Russian investigators as well as a French team carrying out a probe at the request of Arafat's widow, Suha.
The French have also ruled out poisoning, while the Swiss report said high levels of radioactive polonium indicated third party involvement in Arafat's 2004 death.
The Palestinians have long suspected that Arafat was poisoned, with some pointing the finger directly at Israel. Suha Arafat has told AFP that she was "completely convinced that the martyr Arafat did not die a natural death."
Uiba told reporters on Thursday that his agency had not received any requests from the Palestinians to conduct a repeat examination.
"We've completed an expert evaluation, and everyone agreed with us. Moreover, even the Swiss withdrew their statements and agreed, and the French confirmed our conclusions," Uiba told reporters.
But a spokesman for the Swiss investigators who conducted the studies, said the Russian results did not change anything.
"We maintain our position," spokesman Darcy Christen said, noting it was hard to believe Arafat died "a natural death" in the absence of any diagnosis.
The Russian agency in October doubted a report published in The Lancet, saying that Swiss radiation experts had found traces of polonium on Arafat's clothing.
The Swiss team said at the time its findings "support the possibility" the veteran Palestinian leader was poisoned.
Uiba was reported as saying at the time that Arafat could not have been poisoned by polonium but the agency quickly denied issuing any conclusions about the leader's death.