Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has said that Russian experts will join a team of Swiss and French investigators in exhuming the remains of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat later this month.
Abbas made the announcement during a ceremony to mark the eighth anniversary of Arafat's death on Sunday, in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
"The legitimate questions are why the Russians have been kept away for the last eight years of this investigation .... I believe the Palestinian Authority were afraid of the Israelis, maybe they were instructed by the Americans, by the Israelis, not to examine the body .... I am shocked as a Palestinian about why Arafat has been left all these years without [the PA] telling us."
- Abdel Bari Atwan, a Palestinian journalist
Arafat died at a French military hospital in 2004 from an undisclosed or unknown condition.
Abbas said he hopes the Russian involvement will help the investigation: "There is a complete co-ordination between us and experts from France and Switzerland and also the Russian government to exhume Arafat's body on the hope that new facts will arise."
In July, a nine-month investigation, broadcast on Al Jazeera, revealed that Arafat was in good health until he suddenly fell ill on October 12, 2004.
Further tests showed that some of Arafat's personal belongings, including his clothes and toothbrush, contained abnormal levels of polonium - a rare, highly radioactive chemical.
Those personal effects, which were analysed in Lausanne, Switzerland, were stained with Arafat's blood, sweat, saliva and urine.
The tests carried out on those samples suggested that there might have been a high level of polonium-210 inside his body when he died.
"I think Palestinian leaders are interested in Russian participation for political reasons .... I think it is for balance, view, to keep out any suspicions; that [is why] they brought in Russian, French, Switzerland."
- Vyacheslav Matuzov, a former Russian diplomat
Although polonium-210 is harmless when it is outside the body, once inside, it becomes one of the most deadly substances. An amount equivalent to the size of a particle of dust is lethal.
After being ingested into the body, polonium-210 quickly gets into the blood stream. It then bombards the cells with millions of radioactive alpha particles.
It damages the organs - first the liver and the kidneys, causing jaundice; it damages the intestines, causing toxic shock syndrome; and finally, it attacks the heart.
So, why is Russia getting involved in this investigation, and why now?
To answer this question, Inside Story, with presenter Ghida Fakhry, is joined by guests: Vyacheslav Matuzov, the executive chairman of the Russian Friendship Society with Arab Countries; Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor in chief of Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper; and Cham Dallas, a professor at the University of Georgia.
"The popular street here [in Ramallah] welcomes the investigation because, while they always believed that Yasser Arafat was poisoned, there never was an investigation done. There never was forensic evidence brought forward that proved that he was poisoned."
Al Jazeera's Clayton Swisher, whose documentary What Killed Arafat? triggered calls for the exhumation of Arafat's remains
YASSER ARAFAT'S DEATH:
- Yasser Arafat died in a French hospital on November 11, 2004
- Swiss and French experts are to exhume Arafat's body on November 27, 2012
- Arafat died while being treated for a mysterious illness in France
- Palestinians widely believe Yasser Arafat was poisoned by Israel
- Traces of polonium were found on some of Arafat's belongings
- Arafat spent his last years confined to his Ramallah compound
- Analysts say Arafat rejected making peace on Israeli terms
- Analysts say Arafat died convinced that Israel was not ready for peace
- Mahmoud Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority after Arafat's death
- Abbas pledged to follow the path of his predecessor
- Arafat spent much of his life fighting in the name of Palestine
- Israel denies any involvement in Arafat's death