Arafat's Body To Be Exhumed, Examined For Polonium Poisoning With French, Russian Help

on November 13 2012 2:53 PM
Arafat grave in Ramallah
Palestinians pray at the grave of the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, inside his compound In Ramallah, the West Bank, on November 13, 2004. Reuters

Two days after the eighth anniversary of Yasser Arafat's death, the deceased Palestinian president's tomb in the West Bank has been blocked off in preparation for the exhumation of the body.

Last July, an Al-Jazeera documentary raised eyebrows by suggesting Arafat, who was originally diagnosed with the flu but whose healthy steadily declined, suffered from polonium poisoning after tests of his personal belongings by a lab in Switzerland were found to have abnormally high levels of the rare substance.

Arafat's widow Suha, who sent Arafat's clothes to the Swiss, also lodged a formal legal complaint for murder, CNN said.

The official cause of Arafat's death in November 2004 is listed as "a stroke that resulted from a bleeding disorder cause by an unidentified infection," the New York Times said, but doctors "could not determine the underlying disease that killed him."

It will take about two weeks to extract the body from the tomb, the Times said, and French, Swiss, and Russian experts have all confirmed they will help in the testing.

The new investigation has reportedly caused a split in the Arafat family, the Times and AFP reported . Nasser al-Kidwa, Arafat's nephew, said it was "abhorrent" that his uncle's body was being exhumed. 

"We say openly that our leader, our founder was assassinated by Israel with poison. The overwhelming majority of the Palestinian people is convinced of this," said al-Kidwa, according to the Ma'an News Agency. "Some have spread about the repugnant idea that Arafat's tomb should be opened up and desecrated. There is no justification for this: we know the real truth."

At the time of Arafat's death, Palestinian leaders said that they had "totally ruled out" the possibility of foul play, despite the rumors of poisoning that were already circulating.

Israel has adamantly denied having anything to do with Arafat's illness. Speaking to the Times of Israel, French doctor Roland Masse, who works at the hospital where Arafat was treated, said there was "absolutely no way" Arafat was poisoned. Symptoms of polonium poisoning would have been "impossible to miss," and Arafat was, in fact, tested for radiation poisoning at the French hospital where he was treated prior to his death.

"There is absolutely no way the symptoms described in Yasser Arafat's medical report match those of poisoning by polonium," Masse told the Times of Israel.

When questioned about the nascent investigation in August, State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland had no comment.

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