Yasser Arafat's Body to be Exhumed for Cause of Death Tests

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The remains of the former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat are to be exhumed to examine whether he was poisoned.

Arafat died in November 2004 in a military hospital in Paris, a month after suddenly falling ill. His medical records put the cause of death as a stroke resulting from a blood disorder.

But Palestinian officials have long claimed he was poisoned by Israel and French authorities began a murder inquiry in August following the detection of traces of the lethal radioactive substance polonium-210 on Arafat's clothing. Those tests were inconclusive, and experts said they need to check his remains to learn more.

Swiss, French and Russian experts will take samples from Arafat's bones on Tuesday, said Tawfik Tirawi, who heads the Palestinian team investigating the death.

Arafat will be reburied the same day with military honours, but the ceremony will be closed to the public, Tirawi said.

The new inquiry into Arafat's death began after his widow Soha gave the Palestianian leader's clothes to TV station Al-Jazeera, which then passed them to a Swiss lab for testing.

The widow also asked the French government to investigate, while the Palestinian Authority called in Russian experts.

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.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by David Batty and agencies, for guardian.co.uk on Saturday 24th November 2012 11.51 Europe/London

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