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Yasser Arafat killed by radiation poisoning?

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Muhammed Muheisen/AP/File

(Read caption) In this file photo, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat talks to the media during a press conference at his headquarters, in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Yasser Arafat's body may be exhumed to allow for more testing of the causes of his death after a Swiss lab said it found elevated levels of a radioactive isotope in belongings the Palestinian leader is said to have used in his final days.

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Was Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat murdered, poisoned with the same radioactive element that Russian agents used to kill Alexander Litvinenko in 2006? That's being suggested by a series of reports put out by Al Jazeera this week, igniting calls from his widow to exhume his body for further testing and a return to the anger over his death eight years ago.

An investigation by Al Jazeera finds that "tests reveal that Arafat’s final personal belongings – his clothes, his toothbrush, even his iconic kaffiyeh – contained abnormal levels of polonium, a rare, highly radioactive element. Those personal effects, which were analyzed at the Institut de Radiophysique in Lausanne, Switzerland, were variously stained with Arafat’s blood, sweat, saliva and urine. The tests carried out on those samples suggested that there was a high level of polonium inside his body when he died."

Well, they might, in what's the latest twist in the controversy over Arafat's death. Polonium is a rare element, hard for anyone but a national government to get its hands on and dangerous to handle. Its presence on Arafat's belongings is certainly suggestive. But it's also not out of the realm of possibility that it was added to his effects after his death (though, again, it's very difficult to obtain). Only if his body is exhumed -- carefully, under supervision by professionals guarding against tampering -- can suspicion congeal into fact.

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