Middle East

Yasser Arafat: French prosecutor seeks end to murder inquiry

Mural of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Image copyright AFP
Image caption Many Palestinians accuse Israel of involvement in Arafat's death - something it denies

A French prosecutor has said there is no case to answer regarding the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

A murder inquiry was ordered by a court in Nanterre in August 2012 after his widow Suha alleged he was poisoned with polonium-210, a radioactive element.

On Tuesday, the local prosecutor concluded the case should be dismissed.

The medical records of Arafat, who died aged 75 at French military hospital in November 2004, said he had a stroke resulting from a blood disorder.

Many Palestinians nonetheless continue to accuse Israel of involvement in his death - something it has strenuously denied.

'Natural death'

Arafat died at the Percy military hospital in Paris, weeks after falling ill at his compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption To test whether Arafat may have been poisoned, it was necessary to exhume his body

His widow objected to a post-mortem examination at the time, but agreed to allow French, Russian and Swiss experts to take samples from his remains after traces of polonium-210 were found on his personal effects in July 2012 as part of an investigation by the Qatar-based al-Jazeera network.

The next month a court in the Paris suburb of Nanterre launched a murder inquiry following the deposition of a civil suit by Suha Arafat. The case did not name an alleged killer, but was brought against an unnamed perpetrator X.

In April 2015, three French judges concluded their investigation into Arafat's death and sent their findings to the Nanterre prosecutor.

Nanterre prosecutor Catherine Denis said at the time that the French experts had concluded that the polonium-210 and lead-210 isotopes found in Arafat's grave and in the samples of his remains were of "an environmental nature".


Polonium-210

  • Highly radioactive and toxic element
  • Present in foods in low doses
  • Low levels found naturally in the environment
  • Can be manufactured by bombarding certain isotopes with neutrons
  • Has industrial uses such as in anti-static devices
  • Very dangerous if significant dose ingested
  • External exposure not a risk, only if ingested
  • Present in tobacco

What is polonium-210?


On Tuesday, her office told the AFP news agency: "The prosecution gave the opinion that the case should be dismissed."

The court must now decide on whether to follow the prosecutor's advice.

The French findings echoed those of the Russian Federal Medical and Biological Agency, which said in December 2013 that Arafat "died not from the effects of radiation but of natural causes".

However, Swiss scientists at the Vaudois University Hospital Centre in Lausanne said the previous month that the results of their investigation indicated "third-party involvement" in Arafat's death and offered "moderate backing for the theory of poisoning".

Despite the Russian and French findings, a Palestinian investigative committee declared that it was certain that Arafat was "killed and that Israel killed him".

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