POSTED: 01:53 a.m. HST, Nov 24, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 02:06 a.m. HST, Nov 24, 2012
RAMALLAH, West Bank >> The remains of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will be exhumed Tuesday as part of a renewed investigation into his death, a Palestinian investigator said Saturday.
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 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 Arafat’s bones, said Tawfik Tirawi, who heads the Palestinian team investigating the death. They will examine the samples in their home countries.
Arafat will be reburied the same day with military honors, but the ceremony will be closed to the public, Tirawi told a news conference.
He did not specify when results would be announced but said the probe could take months.
Earlier this month, workers began prying open the concrete-encased tomb in 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. Arafat is still widely revered in the Palestinian territories, and Palestinian officials said they don’t 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 Arafat’s. The clothes were provided by Arafat’s widow, Suha, 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.
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, AIDS or was poisoned.
Many in the Arab world believe 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.