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.
Arafat will be reburied the same day with military honors, but the ceremony will be closed to the public, Tirawi told a news conference.
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 his. The clothes were provided by Arafat’s widow, Soha, 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.
A leading French doctor who teaches at the Percy hospital where Arafat died told The Times of Israel earlier this month that, based on Arafat’s medical report, there is “absolutely no way” the Palestinian leader was poisoned.
Dr. Roland Masse, a member of the prestigious Académie de Médecine, said the symptoms of polonium poisoning would have been “impossible to miss,” noting that Percy had tested Arafat for radiation poisoning, and revealed that the hospital specializes in the related field of radiation detection. “A lethal level of polonium simply cannot go unnoticed,” he clarified.
Masse elaborated: “When in contact with high levels of polonium, the body suffers from acute radiation, which translates into a state of anemia and a severe decrease in white blood cells. And yet Arafat did not present any of those symptoms. What did decrease was his platelets, not his white blood cells.”
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.