RAMALLAH // Officials investigating the death of Yasser Arafat will examine the results of recent tests on his clothing before exhuming his remains, the Palestinian justice minister said yesterday.
Despite their suggesting earlier this week that a prompt exhumation would take place, Ali Mohanna, the Palestinian Authority (PA) justice minister, said yesterday that investigators would hold off their inquiry into the death in 2004 of the Palestinian leader.
He said at a news conference in Ramallah, they wanted to review the findings from scientists at the Swiss Institut de Radiophysique, who conducted experiments on Arafat's clothing as part of an investigation by the satellite broadcaster Al Jazeera.
Those findings, which were revealed in a documentary broadcast last week, revealed unusual amounts of polonium-210 - a highly lethal substance - on Arafat's clothing.
This prompted his widow, Suha, to call for an exhumation of the body.
The Swiss scientists said the results were inconclusive and called for an autopsy to determine the cause of death.
Mr Mohanna said that after reviewing the Swiss laboratory results, the PA "will decide what testing we need to do".
Earlier in the week, however, Palestinian leaders had said Arafat's body, which lays in rest in a mausoleum in the PA's presidential compound in Ramallah, could be exhumed.
Saeb Erekat, a senior official in the Fatah political faction, told the Associated Press on Monday that the PA president, Mahmoud Abbas, had approved an autopsy on Arafat.
"We are on the way to an autopsy," said Mr Erekat, who added that Palestinian officials would invite scientists from the Swiss laboratory to participate in their investigation.
It is unclear whether that invitation was extended officially or why Palestinian officials decided to first study the results of Radiophysique's examination of Mr Arafat's body.
Although both exhumation and autopsy could be considered offensive to Muslim sensibilities, many Palestinians generally support the idea of determining the causes of Arafat's death at a French military hospital in November 2004.
The causes of Arafat's death have never been determined and neither French nor Palestinian officials have carried out an official investigation. But many Palestinians suspect Israeli involvement in his death.
Arafat's nephew, Nasser Al Qidwa, yesterday repeated this claim.
He told Agence France-Presse that "there is no longer any doubt" as the "the Al Jazeera documentary confirmed he was poisoned by polonium".
Mark Regev, a spokesperson for Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, rejected the accusation.
"Israel was not involved in the death of Arafat," he said. "All the medical files are in the hands of the Palestinians and it was not Israel who is preventing their publication."
Such files, which are legally controlled by Suha Arafat, have not been made public.
The late Palestinian leader's wife had prevented an autopsy from being performed before last week's documentary by Al Jazeera, which has fuelled speculation that Arafat's death may have been brought about by anything from Aids to food poisoning.