Palestinian Investigation Ctte says Swiss + Russian lab reports confirm Arafat was poisoned – but by what? Investigation continues…

At the Ramallah Muqata’a press conference Friday morning, the Palestinian Committee Investigating the death of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said there’s no doubt Arafat was poisoned — but they don’t know what substance, exactly, was used to kill him.

The head of the Palestinian Investigation Committee Tawfik Tirawi  said that two reports have now been received — one from Switerland and the other from Russia.

Tirawi said that both reports show that: 1.) “Abu Ammar” [Arafat] did not die from age, 2.) or from a disease, and 3.) it was not a natural death.   “The reports provide scientific points” to support the argument, he said.

Dr. Abdullah Bashir, a Jordanian medical doctor originally hired by the Yasser Arafat Foundation, said that both reports concluded that Arafat had died of  “illness as a result of a poisonous substance”.

But the Swiss + Russian labs + experts came to different conclusions about the Polonium they each found. Swiss conclusion: their test results “moderately support” the possibility of  Polonium poisoning.  But Russian experts concluded there’s not enough evidence.

Dr. Bashir told journalists that the Russian Federal Biomedical Agency had looked at their results, and compared them with the development of Arafat’s symptoms + illness, which resulted in the conclusion that there was not enough evidence to say that it was Polonium that had poisoned Arafat.

He said that both Swiss + Russian reports confirmed that Arafat’s illness and death had been caused by some “toxic substance” — which was either not examined at the French hospital in 2004 — or,  if it was tested, the results have not been revealed.

Tirawi said, however, that “other toxic substances” were found in forensic testing of Arafat’s remains + “new facts” had been discovered that require more study.   He did not identify them.

“We know our people need to know” about Arafat’s martyrdom, Tirawi said, and they “need and have a right to know the complete truth”. Tirawi reported the arrival of the two reports to Fatah’s powerful Central Committee [of which he is a member] on Thursday, and the Central Committee asked the Investigation Committee to give the press conference as soon as possible.

After the exhumation of Arafat’s body and the forensic sampling for testing in late November 2012, the samples were taken out of Ramallah and to Europe by French diplomatic valise, the Palestinian committee said in the press conference.

Dr Abdallah Bashir, head of the medical sub-committee of the Palestinian Investigation noted, twice, that French authorities were supposed to keep Arafat’s biological samples for 10 years, but didn’t.

Tawfik Tirawi, Chairman [Abbas-appointed] of the Palestinian Investigation Committee said, however: “the French hospital + French Government know the complete truth and all the details about the martyrdom of Yasser Arafat”.

This is one of the few points on which Tirawi and Al-Jazeera’s Clayton Swisher seem to agree.

Clayton Swisher @claytonswisher 7 Nov
French officials know what killed #Arafat [See here … via @Le_Figaro

The French know everything, Tirawi said suddenly, with intensity, but “Israeli is the basic + only one to be accused + we continue to investigate all details”.

He then waved a document that he said was a collection of all Israeli + even American statements about getting rid of and killing Arafat…

Tirawi said that he had been conducting his own investigation [away from the spotlight] for years, and had questioned  hundreds of Palestinians + non-Palestinians inside + outside the occupied Palestinian territory. He seemed confident that his investigation will find the culprit[s], adding “we must find not only the substance but also the tool”.

In his press conference, Tirawi said:  now “we’re closer to the truth + God willing we’ll reveal it at our next meeting w/ you; it’s our national + moral duty, it’s our promise + commitment to our people, to the Arab people, and to all the Palestinian martyrs who fell before”.

“We know our people need to know” about Arafat’s martyrdom, Tirawi said, and they “need and have a right to know the complete truth”.

It was revealed in the press conference that Russian experts made a second visit to Ramallah in mid-March 2013 to collect samples [“clothes and materials which were used by Arafat” before medical evacuation to France].  This seemed to be for previously-undisclosed additional control testing, to compare values on the materials found in the Muqata’a with those that Arafat had with him at the hospital in France, which were already tested in early 2012 at the request of Suha Arafat and Al-Jazeera.

Dr. Abdullah Bashir said that the latest Russian control tests found “all of Arafat’s belongings they took in March 2013 were free of toxic or radioactive substances”.

The findings:  Russian control tests on Arafat’s belongings from the Muqata’a showed none of the Polonium that the Swiss lab found in clothes Suha had been keeping, which Arafat had used while in France [and which tested for high levels of “unsupported” Plutonium 210 — meaning without Lead 210 also present.

Al-Jazeera explained, in it’s July 2012 program, “What Killed Arafat?”,that this indicated the Plutonium used was the kind produced in a nuclear reactor…

Al-Jazeera was ready for the revelations in Ramallah on Friday about the Russian report’s findings — but responded mainly by attacking the Russian probe:

@AJELive –  Al Jazeera releases conclusions of Russian probe into #Arafat’s death: results “inconclusive” [See here and “Experts question Russian Arafat findings” here

Swisher wrote his own scathing account of the press conference in Ramallah, and criticized Tirawi:
@claytonswisher — Yasser Arafat: a farce in Ramallah | Clayton Swisher [See here via @guardian …

In his article, Swisher wrote that while “There are lots of reasons to suspect Israeli responsibility.,,It appears logical for the PA – under Israeli military siege in the Muqata when Arafat suddenly became violently ill on 12 October 2004 – to claim Israel alone is to blame. But there are many other possibilities that Tirawi prefers to ignore. He himself was with Arafat during the siege; he was wanted by Israel, the CIA was shunning him, and he was accused of orchestrating suicide attacks against Israelis. That he was in close proximity when Arafat fell ill makes him at best a witness. For him to lead the investigation now is almost as farcical as the PA’s entire approach to date”…

Swisher added: “The exhumation of Arafat was not supposed to happen. The PA did not like the fact that Suha sought French jurisdiction. It preferred the UN security council, a curious choice given that it has almost never passed a resolution that benefits Palestinians. The PA also demanded the Arab League investigate, which again amounted to little more than platitudes. But when the French government formally demanded access to Arafat’s body, it faced a conundrum it had sought to avoid for years. It was the PA that refused to push for an autopsy that most likely would have resolved this mystery years earlier. In a taped interview Nasser Kidwa told me: ‘I would think this would have meant the end of the peace process, as it stood at that time … because the Palestinian people would have seen a great crime, the crime of the killing of their leader’. Instead, the PA chose to use the case as a political weapon in its quest for negotiations with Israel. This also helped it avoid a painful, if not self-evident question: was one of its own involved? Sure, the Israelis controlled the perimeter. But as food, water and medicines were allowed in, a microscopic amount of lethal Polonium 210 would not have been hard to get inside. At a very minimum, his closest aides and bodyguards failed to prevent someone from introducing polonium into Arafat’s system, whether by ingestion, injection, or inhalation. Could one of his aides have delivered the dose, with Israeli technical support? This is why the idea of Arafat’s closest associates conducting their own investigation is inappropriate”.

In the Ramallah press conference earlier Friday, Tirawi said that he had been conducting his own investigation [away from the spotlight] for years:  hundreds of Palestinians + non-Palestinians have been interrogated inside + outside the occupied Palestinian territory, he said. He seemed confident that his investigation will find the culprit[s], adding “we must find not only the substance but also the tool”.

Meanwhile, French findings have not [yet] been transmitted to the Palestinian Committee, despite official government-to-government agreement + a follow-up letter [making a total of 2, the earlier letter was several years ago].

Dr. Abdullah Bashir said that the conclusions of both Swiss + Russian expertsthat  Arafat’s illness and death was indeed due to some toxic substance is in line with the conclusions of French doctors in Percy Hospital where Arafat died — “that the development of [Arafat’s] illness cannot be explained by medical science”…

Tirawi, head of the Palestinian Committee Investigating Arafat’s death + the other 2 members with him {Justice Minister Ali Muhanna + Dr. Abdallah Bashir] gave a careful explanation of the inter-relationship between them + the Swiss, French + Russian investigation.

Dr. Bashir carefully said that  the reason for the failure, so far, to-transmit the French findings to Palestinian officials may be the procedures and requirements of the judicial process in France, where a murder investigation is underway at the request of Suha Arafat.

Al-Jazeera’s Swisher pointed out, in his  Comment-is-Free critique of the Palestinian process, that:

“Three [French] investigating magistrates will now have the opportunity to review the Swiss testimony and incorporate their own forensic conclusions into the body of evidence.  While in Ramallah last November, the French were refused permission by the PA to question its officials without submitting questions in writing.  If the PA is serious about finding the truth of who killed their iconic leader, it must afford the French unfettered access”.

There are several Palestinians whose names have been mentioned over and over again in connection with Arafat’s mystery illness and death.  Some of them were listed by Jerusalem journalist Matthew Kalman, co-author with Matt Rees of “The Murder of Yasser Arafat”.  Kalman told Jerusalem-based journalist Noga Tarnopolsky that:

“Palestinian investigators he spoke with ‘would like to ask some tough questions of three men in particular: Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas; Tayyeb Abdul Rahim, the secretary general of the president’s office under both Arafat and Abbas; and Muhammad Dahlan, the Gaza security chief who became Abbas’s interior minister.” This is published here.



<H1>Polonium -201</H1>

The two reports now in Ramallah found both Polonium -210 + also Lead- 210 in Arafat’s tested remains.  This is confusing.  And, the Palestinian Investigating Committee noted that both the Polonium- 210 + Lead- 201 found in Arafat’s remains were [according to the Swiss + Russian experts] present in curiously high amounts — Why?

Some of the brief explanatory remarks made by Palestinian officials at the Ramallah press conference are similar to questions raised in an article by Mark Peplow posted on here on November 6, which states:

“Tests on the exhumed body of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat have found traces of the radioactive isotope polonium-210, prompting renewed claims that he was deliberately poisoned.
‘The results could reasonably support the proposition that the death was the consequence of poisoning by polonium- 210’, says Patrice Mangin, director of the University Centre of Legal Medicine in Lausanne, Switzerland, who led the analysis.
But his lengthy report on the investigations, released Tuesday 5 November, is clear that the evidence offers no firm conclusions. ‘I don’t think it will settle the debate’, says Patrick Regan, a nuclear physicist at the University of Surrey, UK”.

The article explains its questions about the Lausanne lab’s findings:

“Naturally occurring radon-222 decays to give a long chain of daughter products, including lead-210 and subsequently polonium-210, which our bodies contain in trace amounts. Roughly two years after death, those isotopes would normally reach equilibrium so that they emit the same amounts of radiation. But synthetic polonium-210 is made by irradiating bismuth-209 with neutrons, and should contain no lead-210. If Arafat had been poisoned, “a significant enhancement of polonium-210 compared to lead-210 would be a smoking gun,” says Regan.

The results were mixed. Some samples showed unusually high levels of the isotopes – but in many cases their radioactivity was fairly evenly matched. Some even had much more lead-210 than polonium-210, suggesting that the isotopes may have been extracted from bone samples at different rates, further muddying the data. There is certainly no smoking gun in the report, says Regan.

One explanation for the matching isotope ratios could be that Arafat was given a dose of polonium-210 contaminated with lead-210. Although most of the polonium would have decayed by now, lead-210 has a half-life of 22 years, so its radioactivity would barely have declined since Arafat’s death. The Lausanne scientists tested a commercial sample, and found that it did contain enough lead-210 to account for this. “It’s a plausible hypothesis,” says Regan.

They also saw elevated levels of a polonium-210 decay product, lead-206, in some samples, providing additional evidence that Arafat died with high levels of polonium-210 in his body. Although the analysis cannot prove foul play, “one doesn’t absorb by accident, or voluntarily, a source of polonium”, says François Bochud, a colleague of Mangin’s and co-author of the report. “From the moment one considers that the polonium was introduced artificially in the organism, that necessarily implies the intervention of a third party.”

Others are less certain. Polonium-210 has a half-life of 138 days, so any radioactivity measured by the team would have been a million times lower than in 2004. “After so many half-lives you can’t reliably say how much polonium was there eight years ago, there’s too much background interference,” says Kai Vetter, head of applied nuclear physics at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. Vetter suggests that the team should survey other commercial polonium samples to back up their lead contamination hypothesis, and re-check the methods they used to extract the isotopes from tissue for systematic errors” …

Dan Kaszeta, a chemical weapons expert, kindly sent a simple explanation about Polonium-201 [in an email in response to my request for help in understanding the new forensic testing results] in which he said:

1. Polonium 210 occurs in nature as the result of natural decay of Uranium. Its immediate predecessor is Lead 210.
2. Polonium 210 can also occur as the result of manmade activity – nuclear labs and reactors
3. Polonium 210 is ubiquitous in nature, with widely ranging background levels. It occurs in tobacco smoke. This is due to tobacco plants thinking that Uranium is a mineral that they need and they absorb it. Wherever you get naturally occurring Uranium you get Polonium.
4. There’s not a direct way to tell the difference between manmade and natural polonium. You can guess by looking for lead 210
5. If you find lead 210 at the same time you find polonium 210, it is reasonable to assume that the polonium is naturally occurring, provided that it is in the correct proportion. Lead 210’s decay into polonium is mathematically predictable, so if the numbers work out, its highly likely to be naturally occurring. In the Swiss report, this is so-called “supported” polonium
6. The Swiss report says that the Polonium in Mr. Arafats bones is “supported” (see page 58).
7. Polonium decays into Lead 206. But that doesn’t tell you very much at all.
8. Either Mr. Arafat was poisoned with an awful lot of the stuff, or the amount would have decayed and degraded by now to the point that it would be lost in the background
9. The report uses the measurement unit of milliBecquerel. This is really small. Even a Becquerel is too small.
10. Chain of custody: Where were these clothes/personal effects for the 8 years between his death and the testing? Ample scope for manipulation.
11. The amounts of polonium we are talking about are ridiculously small, so we can’t rule out cross-contamination. Seriously, the clothing of a chain-smoker is going to have polonium in it from tobacco residue. If you handle a few cigarette butts then handle the shovel and then the remains of Mr. Arafat, that’s plenty of cross-contamination potential as one hypothetical example.

Polonium 210 is Polonium 210.  Natural or reactor-produced, its exactly the same.  Full stop.
Anybody advancing a “not that kind of Polonium” argument is taking liberties with the science. The supported vs unsupported thing is good, but only an indirect indicator.
Polonium from nature has decayed from lead 210, part of a long journey of decay (a decay chain).
Polonium made in a lab or reactor is generally made by bombarding Bismuth 209 with neutrons.  But once this results in Polonium 210, that Polonium 210 is chemically and physically identical to that found in nature.
If you find Polonium 210 somewhere, you can indirectly deduce that it is natural or not by seeing if there is a lot of Lead 210 around.  If you measure the amount of Lead 210, you can mathematically calculate how much Polonium 210 should be there, within reason.
Both types of Polonium (although they really are exactly the same) decay into lead 206.



A day earlier [on Thursday], the Swiss lab in Lausanne gave a press conference to defend their conclusions. The Wall Street Journal reported here that “A team of Swiss scientists said Thursday that their research led them to the conclusion that the longtime Palestinian leader likely died from the ingestion of radioactive polonium….The medical team from Switzerland’s University Center for Legal Medicine first raised the prospect that Mr. Arafat was poisoned by polonium last year when it cooperated with Qatar’s Al Jazeera television network on a documentary about the death…The Swiss doctors said they received through Mrs. Arafat access to her husband’s medical records and DNA samples and that they conducted toxicology and radiological tests. Some of this was done by screening clothes and bags Mr. Arafat brought with him to Paris from Ramallah after he became ill. [n.b. – After exhumation and forensic sampling of the Arafat’s remains last November in Ramallah, the Swiss lab was asked again to do further testing on those samples] They said the time frame over which Mr. Arafat became ill and died, roughly a month, was consistent with how animals injected with polonium react. The doctors also said it was inconceivable to them that Mr. Arafat ingested polonium by mistake and said their studies indicated the radiological material was a processed form, rather than natural. ‘Our results reasonably support the poisoning theory’, said Francois Bochud, who wrote the 108-page study on Mr. Arafat’s death as part of the Swiss team. ‘Can we exclude polonium as cause of death? The response is clearly no’, he said. ‘Was polonium the cause of the death for certain? The answer is [also] no’.”

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