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Thu Aug 28 03:03:42 SAST 2014

Work starts on Arafat's exhumation

Sapa-AFP | 14 November, 2012 00:01
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat flashes a victory sign from a helicopter before he departs from the West Bank town of Bethlehem, in this file photo taken May 13, 2002.
Image by: STRINGER / REUTERS

The exhumation began yesterday of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, whose body is to be examined for evidence that he was murdered, a source close to his family said.

"Today they started removing concrete and stones from Arafat's mausoleum and the work will last for almost 15 days," the source said, on condition of anonymity.

"There are several phases," he said, referring to the opening of the tomb ahead of a visit by French, Swiss and Russian experts who will test Arafat's remains after suspicions were raised that he was poisoned with radioactive polonium.

On Monday, Arafat's mausoleum, which is located at the Muqataa presidential headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, was screened off from public view with blue tarpaulins.

The taking of samples is expected to begin at the end of the month. The French and Swiss experts arrive on November 26, officials have said.

When Arafat died at the age of 75 in a French military hospital near Paris, on November 11 2004, French doctors were unable to say what had killed him.

Many Palestinians are convinced that he was poisoned by Israel.

French prosecutors opened a murder inquiry in August after Swiss experts told al-Jazeera television that they had found high levels of radioactive polonium on Arafat's personal effects.

Polonium is a highly toxic substance rarely found outside military and scientific circles.

It was used to kill former Russian spy-turned-Kremlin-critic Alexander Litvinenko.

Litvinenko died in 2006 after drinking tea laced with the poison at a London hotel.

Yesterday, a source close to the French investigation said a court had handed a formal request for international judicial assistance for the team of French investigative magistrates who are to travel to Ramallah.

The French murder inquiry was opened at the request of Arafat's widow, Suha, but it has caused a split within the family.

Speaking at another memorial event for Arafat, his nephew, Nasser al-Qidwa, described the exhumation plans as "repulsive" and that they would be tantamount to the desecration of his tomb.

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Thu Aug 28 03:03:42 SAST 2014 ::