A Swiss laboratory team has made a brief visit to the West Bank city of Ramallah to prepare for the exhumation of the late President Yasser Arafat, a Palestinian official has said.
The team, along with French investigators, is expected to participate in an operation starting on November 26 and expected to take “several weeks or a month” to exhume Arafat’s remains as part of a probe into the circumstances of his death in 2004.
Ahead of the exhumation, experts from the Institute of Radiation Physics at Switzerland’s University of Lausanne made a brief visit to Ramallah, visiting the grave and meeting with Palestinian health minister Hani Abdeen and justice minister Ali Mhanna.
“A delegation from the Swiss laboratory visited Yasser Arafat’s grave to examine the site,” Tawfiq Tirawi, head of the Palestinian investigative committee on Arafat’s death, said.
Tirawi told AFP news agency he met the team “to discuss next steps”.
Tirawi stressed that opening the grave to test Arafat’s remains would only take place once in the presence of both the Swiss experts and French investigators, who are running separate probes.
Al Jazeera’s Clayton Swisher, whose film What Killed Arafat? triggered the international investigations, spoke with the Swiss and witnessed their meetings at the Muqataa alongside engineers at the grave of Yasser Arafat.
“It’s a delicate procedure, given the amount of marble, concrete and steel involved, and the forensic examiners want to ensure the late Palestinian leader’s body will be approached with great care,” said Swisher, reporting from Ramallah.
Arafat died in a French military hospital near Paris on November 11, 2004 and French experts were unable to say what had killed him, with many Palestinians convinced he was poisoned by Israel.
French prosecutors opened a murder inquiry in August after Al Jazeera broadcast the investigation in which Swiss experts said they had found elevated levels of radioactive polonium on Arafat’s personal effects.
Polonium is a highly toxic substance rarely found outside military and scientific circles.
It was used to kill former Russian spy turned Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, who died in 2006 in London shortly after drinking tea laced with the poison.
Swiss experts involved in the investigation said traces of radioactive poison would be lost forever if Arafat’s remains were not analysed soon.