- (Photo: Reuters)
The remains of Yasser Arafat, the former Palestinian leader who died in 2004, were exhumed from his grave in the city of Ramallah on Tuesday after rumors spread suggesting that he might have been poisoned.
"The process and the work of the experts began early in the morning, and as far as I know everything went well, and they were able to collect what was needed," said Nour Odeh, a spokeswoman for the Palestinian Authority.
Arafat served as Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and President of the Palestinian National Authority from 1996 to 2004, when he fell into a coma and died in a French military hospital at the age of 75. His health had deteriorated in Ramallah two weeks earlier, where he remained confined to a compound for more than two years during the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Revered by many Arabs for his determination to establish a Palestinian state and for working with Israel to negotiate a peace deal, his exact cause of death has been questioned for its somewhat unexplained nature. His widow, Suha Arafat, called for his exhumation after a report by Arabic news network Al Jazeera said evidence existed suggesting that the Palestinian leader might have been poisoned.
Some Palestinian officials have accused Israel of poisoning Arafat, although those claims have never been proven. French, Swiss and Russian experts will now be charged with the task of examining samples from his body, which they will do individually in their home countries. Results are not expected for several months, however.
The Washington Post reported that wreaths were laid at Arafat's tomb after it was resealed, although the area was hidden from public view by blue tarpaulins. The order to exhume the remains was given by Arafat's successor, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, despite strong cultural and Islamic taboos against disturbing a grave site.
The medical records from the French hospital said that he died from a stroke caused by a bleeding disorder stemming from an underling infection, but no traces of poison were found at the time.
The Al Jazeera report claimed that the University of Lausanne's Institute of Radiation Physics in Switzerland tested some of the Arafat's personal items, including the clothes he wore before his death, his toothbrush and his trademark black-checked head scarf, and found high levels of the very toxic radioactive isotope polonium 210. The items were given to the news network by Arafat's widow, who asked French authorities to open a murder inquiry into her husband's death in August.