Date set for Arafat's body to be exhumed

Former Palestinian leader's body to be tested for polonium following probe suggesting he may have been poisoned.

    The former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's body is to be exhumed on Tuesday, Palestinian officials say.

    The announcement came as a group of international experts arrived in the West Bank city of Ramallah to take samples of the remains of Arafat's bones and clothing for further study in European labs.

    "The tomb will be opened on [Tuesday] and experts will take samples the same day within a matter of a few hours," Tawfiq Tirawi, the Palestinian inquiry chief, said in Ramallah.

    Arafat's mausoleum, which was sealed in August, will be opened so that his remains can be tested to find out whether his death in Paris in November 2004 at the age of 75 was caused by poisoning.

    Tirawi said a reburial ceremony would be held with full military honours later the same day in the mausoleum, at the heart of Arafat's Muqataa headquarters.

    "It will take a short period of time and the body will be returned," Al Jazeera's Tom Ackerman reported on Saturday.

    "The sample will be given to an investigation team from France, Russia, Switzerland and Palestine."

    Al Jazeera investigation

    Rumours and speculation have surrounded Arafat's death ever since a quick deterioration of his condition saw him pass away at the Percy military hospital.

    French doctors were unable to say what killed him and a post-mortem was never performed.

    Arafat's medical records, which were obtained by Al Jazeera in an exclusive investigation, state that he had suffered a stroke.

    Arafat, who led the Palestine Liberation Organisation for 35 years and became the first president of the Palestinian Authority in 1996, fell violently ill in October 2004 at his compound in Ramallah.

    Many Palestinian believed he was poisoned by the Israelis. That theory gained ground in July, when the Al Jazeera investigation found Swiss findings showing abnormal quantities of the radioactive substance Polonium-210 on Arafat's personal effects.

    France followed that up in late August by opening a formal murder inquiry at Arafat's widow Suha Arafat's request.

    In some cases, the elevated levels were 10 times higher than those on control subjects, and most of the polonium could not have come from natural sources, the scientists said.

    Preliminary work

    Polonium was the same substance that killed Alexander Litvinenko, Russian ex-spy and fierce Kremlin critic, in London in 2006.

    The Palestinians launched preliminary work on opening the grave last week and the exhumation will begin in front of French experts.

    Family members had earlier indicated the exhumation of Arafat's body would probably go ahead on Monday.

    Tirawi did not explain the apparent delay while stressing the procedure was painful but necessary to establish the truth of allegations that Israel may have poisoned Arafat.

    "November 27 will be one of the most painful days of my life for personal reasons as as well as patriotic, political and religious ones," he said on Saturday.

    "But it is necessary in order to get to the painful truth behind Yasser Arafat's death."

    Suha Arafat said on Thursday that the exhumation was "very painful" but also necessary because of suspicions Israel poisoned her late husband.

    "It is very painful. It is a shock, and it is not easy for myself or my daughter," she told the AFP news agency.

    "We must do it to turn the page on the great secrecy surrounding his death."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera And Agencies


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