Poison Found in Rome Supermarket; Italy Orders Removal of Grapefruit

The Health Ministry on Tuesday ordered the removal of grapefruits from all shops, markets and warehouses in the country after grapefruit contaminated with a deadly poison was found in a Rome supermarket.

An expert from the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture was due here Tuesday night to help Italian authorities track down poisoned grapefruits, which may have come from Israel.

The ministry’s order and a public alert to avoid eating grapefruit or drinking grapefruit juice did not specify where the fruit originated. Rome’s health assessor, Violento Ziantoni, said that he believed the poisoned fruit had come from Israel.

Anonymous telephone callers told the Italian news media last week that Jaffa grapefruit from Israel had been poisoned in an act of sabotage, to protest Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

The Italian news agency ANSA said the anonymous call came from a group calling itself the Organization of Metropolitan Proletariat and Oppressed People. Health authorities promptly confiscated grapefruit in Rome and the surrounding Lazio region.

The order became nationwide after grapefruit contaminated with a poison, described as bright turquoise blue in color, was found in Rome.

The poison, not immediately identified, killed laboratory mice. There have been no reports of humans being poisoned.

Avi Granot, a spokesman for the Israel Embassy in Rome, said it has not yet been established that the tainted fruit came from Israel. If it did, it was an act of sabotage and terrorism imperiling innocent people, he said.

Granot suggested, however, that the anonymous threat could have been a hoax which a deranged person may have acted on after reading about it in the newspapers.

“It’s not clear if we are talking about an incident, a criminal act in one case, someone crazy (or) . . . planned poisoning on a large scale,” he said.

“We are constantly in touch with the (Italian) Health Ministry and they are letting us know all details,” the embassy spokesman said.

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