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France opens murder inquiry into Arafat polonium allegations

Reuters/André Durand
3 min

French prosecutors have opened a murder inquiry into the death of Yasser Arafat in a military hospital near Paris in 2004. The move comes after legal action by the Palestinian leader’s family following claims that he may have been killed by radioactive polonium poisoning.

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Arafat’s widow, Suha, and daughter, Zawra, lodged a legal complaint against persons unknown in Nanterre, near Paris, on 31 July.

Dossier: Gaza 2009

They wanted French investigators to look into the reported discovery of traces of polonium on Arafat’s personal effects, thanks to an examination commissioned by Al Jazeera television.

Pierre-Olivier Sur, a lawyer for Arafat's widow and daughter, said they were "happy" at the decision but would not comment further "so as to leave the judges to lead all investigations necessary to find the truth...."

The Palestinian Authority also welcomed the move.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erakat hoped that "we will reach the full truth on Arafat's death and who stands behind it" but repeated the authority's call for an international investigation, such as that into the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafic Hariri.

Israel, which denies accusations that it was behind Arafat’s death, said it "does not feel this investigation is of any concern to it despite all the hare-brained allegations made against us," foreign ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor said.

Both Al Jazeera and the French site Slate.fr have published the medical report on Arafat’s death. French doctors say he suffered a stroke and had suffered from a blood condition known as disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) but said they were unable to pinpoint a cause.

A specific search for polonium appears not to have been made but the former head of rheumatology at Paris’s Bichat hospital, Marcel Francis-Kahn, told Slate.fr that Arafat’s symptoms were not consistent with radioactive poisoning.

The symptoms are not well-known, however, since there have only been six recorded cases.

Francis-Kahn said that Arafat’s symptoms pointed to possible poisoning by toxic mushrooms and points out that “this type of toxin is notably studied at the Ness Ziona centre, not far from Tel Aviv”.

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