The Palestinian Authority has agreed to the exhumation of Yasser Arafat’s body after new allegations that he was poisoned with the radioactive element polonium-210 in 2004.
A Swiss institute that examined clothing provided by Arafat’s widow, Suha, as part of an Al Jazeera exposé, said it had found “surprisingly” high levels of polonium-210, though symptoms described in the leader’s medical reports were not consistent with the radioactive agent.
The Palestinian administration said it would approve Suha Arafat’s request to bring Arafat’s remains up for autopsy from his limestone mausoleum in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
“The authority, as it always has been, is ready to completely co-operate with and clear the way for an investigation into the true causes leading to the martyrdom of the late president,” said Nabil Abu Rdeineh, spokesman to Arafat’s successor as Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, without giving a date for such a move.
“I want the world to know the truth about the assassination of Yasser Arafat,” Suha Arafat told Al Jazeera.
She did not make any direct accusations but noted that Israel and the US saw him as an obstacle to peace.
The findings stirred up old Palestinian suspicions that Israel was behind the death of the 75-year-old ex-guerrilla it had shunned after peace talks collapsed into bloodshed in 2000.
Long ill, Arafat was airlifted to a military hospital in France where he died on November 11, 2004. French doctors who treated him in his final days said they could not establish the cause of death.
French officials, citing privacy laws, refused to give details of the nature of his illness.
Polonium, apparently ingested with food, was found to have caused the slow death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.
Israel has denied involvement in Arafat’s death and the head of its Shin Bet domestic intelligence service at the time, Avi Dichter, said yesterday that the onus was on the Palestinians.
“The body is in their hands. It is in Ramallah and really, all the keys are in their hands,” he told Israel’s Army Radio.
Arafat led the Palestinian Liberation Organisation’s fight against Israel from the 1960s but signed a peace agreement with the Jewish state in 1993 establishing Palestinian self-rule areas in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
His mysterious death came four years into a Palestinian uprising, after years of talks with Israel failed to lead to a Palestinian state.