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Israel 'only suspect' in Arafat death: Palestinians

Palestinian investigators accused Israel of being the "only suspect" in Yasser Arafat's death on Friday, a day after Swiss laboratory experts said tests suggested he was killed by polonium poisoning.

world Updated: Nov 08, 2013 17:33 IST

Palestinian investigators accused Israel of being the "only suspect" in Yasser Arafat's death on Friday, a day after Swiss laboratory experts said tests suggested he was killed by polonium poisoning.

The Palestinian president died in Paris in 2004, and the Palestinian government in Ramallah demanded France send it the results of a probe launched there over a year ago as soon as possible.

"We say that Israel is the one and only suspect in the case of Yasser Arafat's assassination, and we will continue to carry out a thorough investigation to find out and confirm all the details and all elements of the case," said Tawfiq Tirawi, the head of the Palestinian Authority's inquiry into the death.

Tirawi said Palestinian investigators had studied the findings of Swiss scientists released this week which "moderately" supported the notion that Arafat had been poisoned.

"This is the crime of the 21st century," Tirawi said. "The fundamental (goal) is to find out who is behind the liquidation of Yasser Arafat."

Swiss professor Francois Bochud, left, director of the Chuv Radiophysics Institute, IRA, and Swiss professor Patrice Mangin, right, director of the University Center of Legal Medicine in Lausanne, CURML, speak on a forensics report concerning the late President Yasser Arafat during a press conference at the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois, CHUV, in Lausanne, Switzerland. (AP Photo)

Since Arafat's death, Palestinian society has long given currency to the rumour that he was murdered, with Israel the party most often blamed.

But there has never been any proof.

Arafat died in France on November 11, 2004 at the age of 75 after falling sick a month earlier, but doctors were unable to specify the cause of death and no post-mortem was carried out at the time.

In November 2012, his remains were exhumed and samples taken, partly to investigate whether he had been

poisoned with polonium

-- a suspicion that grew after the assassination in that manner of Russian ex-spy and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.

Speaking to reporters in Lausanne on Thursday, the Swiss team said the test results neither confirmed nor denied that polonium was the actual source of his death, although they provided "moderate" backing for the idea he was poisoned by the rare and highly radioactive element.

'France knows the truth'

They said the quantity of the deadly substance found on his remains pointed to the involvement of a third party.

"We can't say that polonium was the source of his death... nor can we rule it out," said Professor Francois Bochud of the Lausanne Institute of Applied Radiophysics.

Bochud's lab measured levels of polonium up to 20 times higher than it is used to detecting.

Palestinian justice minister Ali Mhanna at Friday's news conference urged France to send findings from its investigation.

"We've so far received no response from the French side. We've sent a letter to the French demanding they accelerate the sending of results, and we're still waiting," said Mhanna.

"From the beginning the French have told us they can't send the results until there's Franco-Palestinian judicial cooperation," the minister added.

Read:Arafat's mysterious death becomes a whodunit

Tirawi declared that "France knows the whole truth and details of the martyrdom of Yasser Arafat".

Some 60 samples were taken from Arafat's remains in November 2012 and divided between Swiss and Russian investigators and a French team carrying out a probe at his widow's request.

So far, there has been no word on the French or the Russian test results.

In this May 31, 2002 file photo, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat pauses during the weekly Muslim Friday prayers in his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.(AP Photo)

Palestinian officials on Thursday demanded an international inquiry into Arafat's "killing".

"The results prove Arafat was poisoned by polonium," said senior Palestine Liberation Organisation official Wasel Abu Yusef.

"This substance is owned by states, not people, meaning that the crime was committed by a state," he told AFP, calling for an "international committee" to probe the killing along the lines of the one that investigated the murder of Lebanon's Rafiq Hariri.

First Published: Nov 08, 2013 14:38 IST