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Russian agency contradicts chief's claims on Arafat poisoning

A Russian forensic body has denied issuing findings on the cause of Yasser Arafat’s death. The statement followed a report quoting the agency's chief as saying Arafat could not have died from polonium poisoning.

Samples from the corpse of the former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat - who died in 2004 - were given to forensic teams from Switzerland, France and Russia last year in a bid to determine if he was murdered with the radioactive, poisonous element polonium.

Medical records show Arafat, then 75, died of a brain hemorrhage caused by a bowel infection. Doubt emerged on the legitimacy of that cause of death, however, when the Swiss forensic team claimed unusual amounts of the deadly polonium-210 isotope were found on Arafat's clothes.

But that theory was reportedly discounted by Vladimir Uiba, head of Russia's Federal Medical-Biological Agency (FMBA), even if it was not supported by the agency itself.

"He could not have been poisoned by polonium," Uiba was quoted as telling the Interfax news agency on Tuesday. "The Russian experts who conducted the investigation did not find traces of this substance."

An official statement from the FMBA issued soon appeared to contradict Uiba's reported comments: "We have not publicized any official results of our forensic review," a spokesman for the agency told AFP, reading from an official statement. "Neither have we publicly confirmed nor denied media reports about there being or not being polonium in Arafat's remains."

In November, Arafat's widow Suha accused Israel of poisoning her husband using polonium, and the theory is a popular one among Palestinians. The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had “nothing new to say” on the death of Arafat, who was Palestinian president from 1994 until his death.

There are doubts over the accuracy of any tests conducted, with experts having warned Arafat's exhumation may have come too late to accurately detect polonium.

ph/msh (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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