Agency backtracks on Arafat death
The Russian agency studying the remains of Yasser Arafat yesterday denied issuing any conclusions about the death of the Palestinian leader, after a report cited its chief as saying he could not have died from polonium poisoning.
Russia's Federal Medical-Biological Agency was one of three international institutes involved in exhuming Arafat's remains in November last year.
Interfax earlier quoted the agency's head, Vladimir Uiba, as saying he doubted a report published in The Lancet at the weekend saying that Swiss radiation experts had found traces of polonium on Arafat's clothing.
The Swiss team said its findings "support the possibility" the veteran Palestinian leader, who died in November 2004, was poisoned.
"He could not have been poisoned by polonium," Uiba was quoted as saying. "The Russian experts who conducted the investigation did not find traces of this substance." The Federal Medical-Biological Agency quickly denied Uiba had ever issued such a statement to Interfax.
"We have not publicised any official results of our forensic review," a spokesman for the agency said. "Neither have we publicly confirmed or denied media reports about there being or not being polonium in Arafat's remains."
Pressed to explain the Interfax report, the spokesman said: "There was no statement."
The deputy editor of Interfax's political news section stood by the story, saying Uiba had made his comments in a sit-down interview.
"If the [agency] press service later decided to issue that kind of statement, then it will rest on their conscience," he said.
A foreign ministry source said Russia had no right to publicise the forensic review's conclusions because the study was commissioned by the Palestinian leadership.
"Our position on announcing the results of Arafat's exhumation remains the same: only the Palestinian authorities can release this information," the unnamed source told the ITAR-TASS news agency.
After a quick deterioration of his health, Arafat died in a military hospital near Paris in November 2004 at the age of 75.
French doctors were unable to say what had killed the Palestinians' first democratically elected president and an autopsy was never performed, at his widow's request.
But many Palestinians believe he was poisoned by Israel.