Eight years after his death in Paris, former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s remains were today exhumed to be studied by experts to determine the exact cause of death following suspicions that the Palestinian leader could have been poisoned.
Leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization () for 35 years, Yasser Arafat was Palestine’s first president and his very presence came to signify the struggle of the Palestinian people. In October 2004, the PLO leader fell ill after which he was flown to a French military hospital, later dying there on November 11. At the time, the cause of death was not suspect, with Mr. Arafat being 75 and said to have suffered a stroke. However, later in 2005, a New York Times expose detailed the coroner’s report that said that that Mr. Arafat had suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke caused by a bleeding order from an unknown infection.
Experts, who initially reviewed the case, saw nothing out of the ordinary. However, a joint investigation by Al Jazeera TV and the Institute of Radiation Physics (IRA) at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland found "significant" traces of the radioactive substance, polonium-210. The substance, it is to be noted, has been used for poisoning in the past with the most recent high-profile case being that of former KGB agent, who died in 2006.
The Al Jazeera investigation found that there were "Unexplained, elevated" levels of the substance on Mr. Arafat’s clothing, toothbrush and even keffiyeh and that more than 60 percent of it was not from natural sources. However, the IRA did add that Mr. Arafat’s symptoms did not resemble polonium poisoning.
Now Mr. Arafat’s remains have been exhumed, with samples given to French, Russian and Swiss experts to determine whether or not poisoning had occurred. After Mr. Arafat’s remains were exhumed, his tomb at the Muqataa presidential compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah was resealed. According to experts, the investigation itself could take several months.
At the time of his death, many believed that Mr. Arafat had been poisoned by Israel, a claim which the Jewish state has strenuously denied. Speaking to the BBC, an Israeli official said, "All the medical files are in the hands of the family or the Palestinian Authority. For some reason they have not released them to this day. Our position has not changed over the years, but the question is why did they wait eight years?"