Digging up Yasser Arafat

The remains of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (were) expected to be exhumed on Tuesday as part of a renewed investigation into the circumstances of his sudden death eight years ago.
This comes after a Swiss institute in July claimed it found high levels of polonium, a lethal substance on clothing supplied by Arafat’s widow.
The National Post takes a look at latest developments  in the ongoing mystery of Mr Arafat’s death.
When did Mr. Arafat die?
Mr Arafat died in November 2004 in a Paris military hospital about a month after he suddenly fell ill. He was flown to France one month earlier from his battered headquarters in the West Bank City of Ramallah, where he had been under siege by Israel for more than two-and-a-half years. He was 75.
Why all the mystery?
Mr Arafat’s death has long been the focus of many conspiracy theories. The doctors who treated him in France said they could not establish a specific cause of the illness that led to his death. Due to a request by his widow, Suha, an autopsy was not performed at the time. The immediate cause of his demise was a stroke, but the underlying source of his illness remains unclear. Some have theorised that Mr Arafat had cancer, died of AIDS or was poisoned.
Why exhume Mr Arafat’s remains now, eight years later?
In July, a Swiss laboratory found significant traces of polonium-210 on Mr Arafat’s clothes, which prompted both the Palestinian and French authorities to take a second look at his case.
The Institut de Radiophysique in Lausanne, Switzerland, found a level of 180 millibecquerels of polonium-210 in bodily fluid on his clothes – more than 20 times the dose needed to kill a human.
The Doha-based television station Al-Jazeera had sent Mr Arafat’s clothes to the institute for testing after obtaining them from his widow as part of an investigation. A month later, in August, French prosecutors opened an inquiry into the Palestinian leader’s demise. That same month, the Swiss institute agreed to a request from the Palestinian Authority to exhume Mr Arafat’s body to determine if he was poisoned with polonium.
How will the tests be conducted?
Mr Arafat’s body (was to) be exhumed from its limestone mausoleum in Ramallah. Separate samples (were to) be taken by both French and Swiss forensic teams, and by a Russian team of experts invited by the Palestinians to help. The process will be conducted out of the view of the public and the media.
Afterwards, Mr Arafat’s remains will be reburied in a military ceremony, according to Tawfiq al-Tirawi, who is in charge of the Palestinian committee overseeing the probe.
Samples will be taken to experts’ home countries for testing. It may be months before results are announced. Still, it’s unclear even then if the mystery will be put to rest.
Polonium-210 is known to rapidly decompose, and eight years is considered the limit to detect any traces of the deadly substance.
If Mr Arafat was poisoned, who could have done it?
Palestinian officials claim Mr Arafat was poisoned by Israel, but have not presented any evidence. Israel has repeatedly denied such allegations.
Polonium-210, however, is the same substance that was used to poison the Russian dissident and former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. He died after he drank tea contaminated with it.
British police who dealt with Mr Litvinenko’s case have alleged that a form of polonium-210 that could be used as poison could only have been sourced by a sophisticated, state-backed intelligence agency. – National Post

December 2012
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