A team of experts investigating late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s death excavated his tomb Tuesday and exhumed his remains to determine whether he had been poisoned to death, Voice of Palestine reported.
Arafat’s remains, exhumed from a limestone mausoleum in Ramallah, will be moved to a mosque near the tomb to help doctors acquire samples from Arafat's bones for testing. The exhumation process was carried out in complete privacy, out of view of the media and the public.
"Samples will be taken according to a very strict protocol, and these samples will be analyzed," Darcy Christen, spokesman for the Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland that carried out the original tests on Arafat's clothes, told Reuters.
"In order to do these analyses, to check, cross-check and double cross-check, it will take several months, and I don't think we'll have anything tangible available before March or April next year," he added.
Experts from Switzerland, France and Russia were present at the time of the exhumation, and samples from Arafat’s remains will be taken to the respective countries for further tests to determine the presence of polonium-210 or any other toxic substance.
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Conspiracy theories have been around since Arafat became sick and died -- reportedly from an unidentified blood infection in October 2004 -- about a possible poisoning as the cause of his death.
According to medical records from a military hospital in Paris where Arafat was treated before his death, he died of a stroke resulting from a blood infection. However, his doctors couldn’t establish what caused the infection, fueling conspiracy theories.
An autopsy was not carried out after his death on the request of his wife, Suha. Conspiracy theories erupted soon after, deepening the mystery enshrouding his death.
A documentary by al-Jazeera TV, based on the findings of scientists at the Institute of Radiation Physics (IRA) at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, also prompted French authorities to launch an investigation into Arafat’s death, the BBC reported.
The Swiss institute said it had discovered high levels of polonium-210 on his clothing, which he was wearing at the time of his death.
The clothing was sent to the institute by his wife, who requested an investigation into the cause of her husband’s death. The institute said that not all of the symptoms mentioned in Arafat’s medical records from the French hospital were consistent with symptoms of polonium poisoning.
Many Palestinians believe that Arafat, who led the Palestine Liberation Organization for 35 years, was poisoned by Israel. However, Israel has vehemently denied the accusation and stated that it has nothing to do with Arafat’s death.
Arafat was 75 years old when he died on Nov. 11, 2004.
Palestinian authorities said the exhumation process would be completed on Tuesday, and the remains will be reburied with full state honor once the samples are taken, according to Reuters.