French court opens Yasser Arafat murder inquiry

Wednesday 29 August 2012 11.17
A Palestinian boys sit next to a mural of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
A Palestinian boys sit next to a mural of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat

A French court has opened a murder inquiry into the 2004 death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat following claims that he may have been poisoned, a legal source told Reuters.

Arafat died in a Paris military hospital in November 2004, a month after being airlifted from his battered headquarters in Ramallah.

Last month, Arafat's wife, Suha, asked a court in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre to launch a murder investigation.

It followed revelations that a Swiss institute had discovered high levels of the radioactive element polonium-210 on Arafat's clothing.

That substance was found to have killed former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.

An investigating magistrate, yet to be named, will lead the French probe into possible premeditated murder, a legal source said.

A lawyer for Suha Arafat told Europe 1 radio that the French court was correct in recognising its jurisdiction to investigate the case, since Arafat died in France.

"The tests done in Switzerland showed that Mr Arafat, in all likelihood, died through poisoning," lawyer Marc Bonnant said.

"This hypothesis must be proved, and if that's the case, then it's premeditated murder."

Suha Arafat has said her suspicions were raised when the hospital where her husband was treated acknowledged that they had destroyed his blood and urine samples.

The Palestinian Authority plans to exhume Arafat's body from a limestone mausoleum in Ramallah for an autopsy.

Tunisia has called for a ministerial meeting of the Arab League to discuss his death.

Yigal Palmor, spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, said: "This does not pertain to us. The complaint lodged by Suha Arafat with the French police does not address Israel or anyone in particular.

"If the French justice system has decided to open an investigation, we hope that it will shed light on this matter."

Keywords: yasser arafat