LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat ingested lethal radioactive polonium before his death nine years ago and had high levels of it in his body that could not have been accidental, Swiss scientists confirmed Thursday.
The Swiss lab examined Arafat's remains, his underclothes and a travel bag that he had with him in the days before his 2004 death in a Paris hospital. They found that the amounts of polonium and its byproduct lead in those items could not be naturally occurring. The timeframe of his illness and death were also consistent with polonium poisoning, they said.
"You don't accidentally or voluntarily absorb a source of polonium — it's not something that appears in the environment like that," Patrice Mangin, director of the Lausanne University Hospital's forensics center, said at a news conference. He said he could not say unequivocally what killed Arafat since the biological samples obtained just last year were too degraded to determine the cause of death.
"Our results reasonably support the poisoning theory," said Francois Bochud, director of the Institute of Radiation Physics that carried out the inquiry, though he was careful to emphasize the lingering questions that will require further investigation to answer.
Arafat died in November 2004 at a French military hospital, a month after falling violently ill at his Israeli-besieged West Bank compound. Palestinian officials have alleged from the start that Israel poisoned Arafat, a claim Israel denies.