RAMALLAH, West Bank – The Palestinian Authority announced Saturday it would exhume the body of Yasser Arafat within days in a bid to determine the cause of his death eight years ago. Many Palestinians believe he was poisoned by Israel.
Arafat, 75, died in a French military hospital near Paris on Nov. 11, 2004, after his health deteriorated suddenly during an Israeli military siege of his Ramallah headquarters.
French hospital reports attributed his death to a massive brain hemorrhage, but gave no details on what caused a related blood condition called disseminated intravascular coagulation, fueling Palestinian suspicion of an Israeli role.
The body will be exhumed Tuesday in Ramallah, Palestinian officials told reporters. Swiss, French and Russian forensic experts will analyze tissue samples to see if they match July tests by the Swiss Institute for Radiation Physics. Those tests found traces of radioactive polonium on Arafat’s toothbrush, fur hat and other belongings he used in his final days.
The media will be kept away from the concrete-encased grave located in Arafat’s former Ramallah compound, which has been obscured by blue industrial sheeting since digging started in mid-November. The body will be immediately reburied some 12 feet underground.
Testing will be done in Switzerland, France and Russia, with the results expected in a few months.
No autopsy was done at the time of Arafat’s death at the request of his wife, Suha. But she later filed a lawsuit, spurring a French investigation. French medical teams ruled out poisoning, while an eight-year Palestinian investigation found no conclusive evidence of foul play.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the Palestinians were free to take all the samples they wanted.
“We have nothing to fear,” he said. “All the accusations against Israel are completely ridiculous and not based on the slightest bit of evidence.”
Amir Rapaport, publisher and editor of Israel Defense magazine, said it was possible but unlikely that Israel had a role. Although Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon expressed “satisfaction” on learning of Arafat’s death, Rapaport said he was privy to the debate among top Israeli government and military leaders at the time, and this idea wasn’t part of the discussion.
Furthermore, he said, the way Arafat died – an initial deterioration, temporary improvement, then a final collapse – bears none of the hallmarks of Israeli assassinations, which tend to be quick and decisive.