Work has begun to open the grave of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat ahead of an exhumation of his body for a murder probe, a source close to his family said.
“Today they started removing concrete and stones from Arafat’s mausoleum and the work will last for almost 15 days,” the source told AFP news agency on Tuesday.
Arafat’s tomb was screened from public view in preparation for the forensic examination of his body.
The entrance to the presidential headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah was surrounded on Monday by blue tarpaulins.
“…Arafat’s mausoleum was closed as a preliminary step in the investigation of his death,” Tawfiq Tirawi, head of the Palestinian investigative committee on Arafat’s death, said.
Arafat died in a French military hospital near Paris on November 11, 2004 and with French experts unable to say what had killed him, many Palestinians are convinced he was poisoned by Israel.
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French prosecutors opened a murder inquiry in August after Al Jazeera broadcast an investigation in which Swiss experts said they had found high levels of radioactive polonium on Arafat’s personal effects.
A French team is due in Ramallah on November 26 to begin work on exhuming the body, Palestinian sources said last month, adding that Swiss experts would arrive at the same time for an operation that could take “several weeks or a month”.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Sunday that Russia would also be helping the investigation although he did not specify in what role.
“We are currently in contact with French investigators, experts in Switzerland and the Russian government to open the tomb of Yasser Arafat,” Abbas said in a speech in Ramallah to mark the eighth anniversary of his predecessor’s death.
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.