Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
The remains of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat have been exhumed for poisoning tests. AP Photo / Muhammed Muheisen
The remains of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat have been exhumed for poisoning tests. AP Photo / Muhammed Muheisen

Yasser Arafat's remains exhumed for poisoning tests

French, Swiss, Russian and Palestinian examiners attended the process of taking samples from the body, which lies interred in a Ramallah mausoleum.

RAMALLAH // Investigators exhumed remains of Yasser Arafat yesterday as part of an inquiry into the cause of the Palestinian leader’s mysterious death eight years ago.

French, Swiss, Russian and Palestinian examiners attended the process of taking samples from the body, which lies interred in a creme-coloured mausoleum in the presidential compound of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the Muqata, located in Ramallah. The city serves as the Palestinians’ administrative capital of the West Bank.

Palestinians view Arafat as the embodiment of their struggle against Israel and evidence of foul play in his rapid demise at a Paris military hospital in 2004 could stir unrest. Many here blame Israel for poisoning the late leader, although no formal investigation was ever completed.

His widow, Suha Arafat, initially forbade a post-mortem until authorising one as part of a French-led inquiry that she requested in September.

That was prompted by a July report by the Al Jazeera network on an investigation – in cooperation with Mrs Arafat and Swiss scientists – that uncovered evidence suggesting her husband may have been poisoned by a radioactive substance, polonium-2010, used in 2006 to kill the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko.

“It’s a difficult decision, but it’s the right decision,” Saeb Erekat, a senior official in the Fatah faction that runs the PA, said yesterday of the exhumation.

“We need to know – all Palestinians need to know – the truth because we cannot continue this sort of speculation where, every few years, someone comes along with a story based on just speculation,” he said.

Because of religious taboos of unearthing the dead and possibly because of fears of provoking protests, the investigative team appeared to take extra precautions during the process that began in the early hours of yesterday. Authorities blocked entrances to the Muqata compound after having already obstructed views of Arafat’s limestone tomb with blue tarpaulins weeks before.

There was confusion about how Arafat’s remains were extracted. Some reports said that after taking remains to a nearby mosque, Palestinian physicians extracted samples.

But Hani Abdeen, the PA health minister, said they were extracted without taking them to another location.

Either way, samples were given to European investigators for examination in their respective countries.

“Samples will be taken according to a very strict protocol and these samples will be analysed,” said Darcy Christen, spokesman for the Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland, which Al Jazeera had contacted to test Arafat’s belongings as part of the television network’s investigation into his death.

“To do these analyses, to check, crosscheck and double crosscheck, it will take several months and I don’t think we’ll have anything tangible available before March or April next year,” he said

Many Palestinians credit Arafat for almost single-handedly giving them hope in the years after Israel’s creation in 1948, when hundreds of thousands of them were forced or fled from their homes and became refugees.

His fight against Israel put the Palestinians’ plight on the map, and his eventual, if fitful, decision to solve his people’s conflict through peaceful negotiations with Israel gave Palestinians hope for an independent state of their own.

Since his death at age 75, little more than speculation and rumours involving everything from causes ranging from Aids to poisoning have shrouded any certainty behind Arafat’s demise.

That has fuelled Palestinian suspicions of Israel’s hand in the death, as well as Palestinian conspirators, possibly someone who had access to the late leader – the PA’s first democratically elected president – during his last two years. He and hundreds of Palestinians spent that time besieged by the Israeli military in the Muqata compound because of the violence of the second intifada, or uprising.

Many Israelis blame Arafat for encouraging if not directing that violence.

PA investigators have said two other Palestinians died shortly after Arafat of mysterious circumstances. Moreover, Tawfiq Tirawi, head of the Palestinian committee investigating Arafat’s death, said in an interview published last month that Israel had handled food and water supplies that were distributed to the late leader and fellow Palestinians during the siege.

Israeli officials have vehemently denied killing Arafat, although in 2003 the then-deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, suggested this as an option during a radio interview.

“For sure, he was poisoned but the question we want to know is, who got the poison to him,” said Terry Hussein, 43, co-owner of the Al Ward supermarket, located next to the Muqata. “Palestinians could have helped with this.”

Palestinian officials also expressed annoyance with the French investigative team, which also has been interviewing Palestinians who were in contact with Arafat during his last days. One official said Russian investigators were requested to participate in the investigation as a way to keep an eye on the French.

“The impression I get of the French: they did not respect Palestinian sovereignty. They have tried to impose things,” said the official.

He and other officials have for months been critical of the French-led investigation and Mrs Arafat, whom they said surprised the PA by co-operating with the Al Jazeera investigation last summer.

Mrs Arafat, conversely, has expressed suspicion about her husband’s former colleagues.

However, Saleh Afana, 52, an employee at the Palestine Monetary Authority, said it was time Palestinians put away their differences over Arafat and allow investigators to do their work.

“Many of us think it was Israeli poisoning, but we will never know the truth unless there is a proper investigation,” he said in downtown Ramallah yesterday.

hnaylor@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting from Reuters

twitterFollow The National on @TheNationalUAE & Hugh Naylor on @HughNaylor

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National