By Dan Williams, Reuters
JERUSALEM–The Palestinian Authority agreed on Wednesday to the exhumation of Yasser Arafat’s body after new allegations that he was poisoned with the radioactive element polonium-210 in 2004. A Swiss institute that examined clothing provided by Arafat’s widow Suha as part of an Al Jazeera expose said it found “surprisingly” high levels of polonium-210, though symptoms described in the president’s medical reports were not consistent with the radioactive agent.
The Palestinian administration said it would approve Suha Arafat’s request to bring Arafat’s remains up for autopsy from his limestone mausoleum in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “The Authority, as it always has been, is ready to completely cooperate with and clear the way for an investigation into the true causes leading to the martyrdom of the late president,” said Nabil Abu Rdeineh, spokesman to Arafat’s successor as Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, without giving a date for such a move. “I want the world to know the truth about the assassination of Yasser Arafat,” Suha Arafat told the Qatar-based satellite TV channel, without making any direct accusations but noting that Israel and the United States saw him as an obstacle to peace. The findings stirred up old Palestinian suspicions Israel was behind the death of the 75-year-old ex-guerrilla it had shunned after peace talks collapsed into bloodshed in 2000.
Long ill, Arafat was airlifted to a military hospital in France where he died on Nov. 11, 2004. French doctors who treated him in his final days said they could not establish the cause of death. French officials, citing privacy laws, refused to give details of the nature of his illness. Polonium, apparently ingested with food, was found to have caused the slow death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.
Israel has denied involvement in Arafat’s death and the head of its Shin Bet domestic intelligence service at the time, Avi Dichter, on Wednesday said the onus was on the Palestinians.
“The body is in their hands. It is in Ramallah and really, all the keys are in their hands,” he told Israel’s Army Radio.