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Yasser Arafat's widow: My husband's death was a crime

Suha Arafat, wife of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, speaking in Doha, Qatar, Thursday.
Suha Arafat, wife of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, speaking in Doha, Qatar, Thursday.Fadi Al-Assaad / Reuters

Yasser Arafat's widow issued a plea for justice Thursday after scientists concluded the former Palestinian leader was likely deliberately poisoned by the radioactive substance polonium-210.

Suha Arafat said her husband's death was a crime and that his successors "have to find the tools and pursue the legal case" in international courts.

Arafat died in 2004 in France, a month after falling ill at his Israeli-besieged West Bank compound.

Suha Arafat did not specifically blame Israel in her comments to The Associated Press Thursday, but said only countries with nuclear capabilities had access to polonium.

"I can't accuse anyone, but it's clear this is a crime, and only countries with nuclear reactors can have and do that," she said. "Now the ball is in the hands of the Palestinian Authority.”

A team of Swiss experts has concluded that Arafat ingested radioactive polonium, and that the time-frame of his illness and death were consistent with polonium poisoning.

"You don't accidentally or voluntarily absorb a source of polonium — it's not something that appears in the environment like that," said Patrice Mangin, director of the laboratory which examined Arafat's remains and his underclothes and a travel bag that he had with him in his final days.

He said his team could not say unequivocally what killed Arafat, who was 75 years old.

Israel once again denied it was behind Arafat’s death -- an accusation made repeatedly by Palestinian officials.

"We never made a decision to harm him physically," said Israeli Energy Minister Silvan Shalom, who was foreign minister at the time of the death. "In my opinion, this is a tempest in a tea cup. But even if it was (poisoning), it certainly was not Israel."

The 108-page Swiss report -- officially published in Geneva Thursday but reported late Wednesday by Qatar-based news channel Al Jazeera -- came after the exhumation of Arafat's remains earlier this year.

It found the remains and burial soil contained elevated levels of polonium-210 -- the same radioactive substance that was slipped into a cup of tea in a London hotel to kill defecting Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. From his deathbed, Litvinenko accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder.

Francoi Bochud, a radiophysicist involved in the Swiss report, said polonium can be obtained with authorization, noting that his own lab receives it in liquid form for research. In that form, Bochud said, just a minuscule amount slipped into food or drink would be lethal within about a month.

Polonium can be a byproduct of the chemical processing of uranium, but usually is made artificially in a nuclear reactor or a particle accelerator. Israel has a nuclear research center and is widely believed to have a nuclear arsenal, but remains ambiguous about the subject.

In a statement put out by his office, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged official Palestinian bodies to "follow up the investigation and to reveal all the facts about the death of the late leader Yasser Arafat, and to put the whole truth before the Palestinian people and the world."

Miri Eisin, a former colonel in the Israeli army, dismissed the new claims as a “conspiracy theory,” adding that Israel was often blamed unfairly.

“We were accused of 9/11,” she said. “We've been accused of anything you could think of including the fact that there are sharks in the Red Sea that attacked people.

“Somebody died. It's not nice, it's not convenient and people want to point fingers.”

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.