Remains of Yasser Arafat to be exhumed next week

Monday 26 November 2012 11.25
The investigation team in a press conference said the body will be exhumed on Tuesday
The investigation team in a press conference said the body will be exhumed on Tuesday

The remains of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will be exhumed next Tuesday as part of a renewed investigation into his death.

Mr Arafat died in November 2004 in a French military hospital, a month after suddenly falling ill.

Palestinian officials claim he was poisoned by Israel, but have not presented evidence.

Israel has denied such allegations.

Earlier this year, the detection of a lethal radioactive substance in biological traces on Mr Arafat's clothing sparked a new investigation.

Tests were inconclusive, and experts said they need to check his remains to learn more.

On Tuesday, Swiss, French and Russian experts will take samples from Mr Arafat's bones, said Tawfik Tirawi, who heads the Palestinian team investigating the death.

He will be reburied the same day with military honours, but the ceremony will be closed to the public.

Earlier this month, workers began prying open the concrete-encased tomb in Mr Arafat's former government headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The Palestinian Authority, the self-rule government in the West Bank, had hesitated before agreeing to exhume the remains, in part because of cultural and religious sensitivities.

Since mid-November, the gravesite has been surrounded with a blue tarpaulin and roads leading to the Arafat mausoleum were closed.

Mr Arafat is still widely revered in the Palestinian territories, and Palestinian officials said they do not want the process observed by media and others.

The new probe into his death began this summer, after a Swiss lab discovered traces of polonium-210, a deadly radioactive isotope, on clothes said to be his.

The clothes were provided by Mr Arafat's widow, Soha, and given to the lab by the Arab satellite TV station Al-Jazeera.

Separately, Mrs Arafat asked the French government to investigate, while the Palestinian Authority called in Russian experts.

Mr Arafat's death has remained a mystery for many.

While the immediate cause of death was a stroke, the underlying source of an illness he suffered in his final weeks has never been clear, leading to persistent conspiracy theories that he had cancer, or was poisoned.

Many in the Arab world believe Mr Arafat, the face of the Palestinian independence struggle for four decades, was killed by Israel.

Israel, which saw Arafat as an obstacle to peace, vehemently denies the charge.

There is no guarantee the exhumation will solve the mystery.

Polonium-210 is known to rapidly decompose, and experts are divided over whether any remaining samples will be sufficient for testing.