Belfast Telegraph

Monday 28 July 2014

Officials to exhume Arafat body

The widow of Yasser Arafat says that French investigators will soon visit the West Bank to dig up the remains of her husband (AP)

The widow of Yasser Arafat says that French investigators will soon visit the West Bank to dig up the remains of her husband in hopes of determining what killed the Palestinian leader eight years ago.

Palestinian officials welcomed the investigation, saying the French team could begin work within days. But some also privately expressed misgivings over the probe.

Arafat's death in a French hospital in November 2004 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, unproven conspiracy theories that he had cancer, Aids or was poisoned.

A Swiss lab's recent discovery of polonium-210, a deadly radioactive isotope, on clothes said to be Arafat's has fuelled new suspicions of poisoning.

Arafat's successor, President Mahmoud Abbas, halfheartedly ordered an autopsy after the lab results were made public in July.

But in something of an insult to Abbas, Suha Arafat instead asked French authorities to open a criminal investigation. She is a French citizen.

In a statement issued through her British and French lawyers, Suha Arafat said the three French judges overseeing the criminal case "have taken the necessary steps" to travel to her husband's grave in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

"Experts from the French scientific police will therefore very soon be able to take samples from the body of Yasser Arafat," the statement said.

Suha Arafat also asked the Palestinian Authority and the Arab League to "suspend any action" while the French investigation is conducted - or at least ensure that any other initiative is coordinated with the French probe.

"Since a judicial investigation has been opened in France, this judicial investigation should take precedence over any other procedure," the statement said. "This will help to guarantee independence and impartiality."

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