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Body of Yasser Arafat exhumed to be examined for polonium poisoning

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
November 27th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who died eight years ago at the age of 75, is believed by some to have been murdered. At the request of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, his body was exhumed, tissue samples were removed and tests for deadly polonium poisoning are now being conducted.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Arafat's body was reburied earlier this week. Polonium is a toxic, radioactive element found on some of his personal belongings earlier this year.

The most potent symbol of Palestinian opposition to Israel, Arafat first led the Palestine Liberation Organization, which carried out attacks against Israeli targets. He later acted as the head of the Palestinian Authority, which currently runs the West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority says it is convinced that Israel was behind any poisoning of Arafat. Israel has declined to comment.

French authorities opened a murder inquiry into his death this year after high levels of polonium-210 were detected on Arafat's toothbrush, clothing and his keffiyeh, the trademark black-and-white headscarf he frequently wore. France opened the investigation partly because Arafat died there in 2004.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas approved the exhumation from Arafat's mausoleum in the Palestinian presidential compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

François Bochud, director of the Swiss institute that carried out the tests says that the presence of high levels of polonium-210 on his belongings does not mean Arafat was poisoned.

Some details in Arafat's medical records are not consistent with polonium poisoning, he explained, and "the only way to resolve this anomaly would be by testing the body."

According to Tawfiq Tirawi, head of a Palestinian investigation committee, experts retrieved the samples from Arafat's body without disturbing the whole of him so officials would not have to do a military reburial as was planned.

Forensic experts from Switzerland and Russia have also taken their own samples for independent analysis, Tirawi said.

Dying at a Paris military hospital after he suffered a brain hemorrhage and slipped into a coma, Palestinian officials say that Arafat had a blood disorder coupled with digestive problems.

Arafat's nephew claimed that medical records showed no cause of death. Nasser al-Kidwa, who was the Palestinian observer to the United Nations, said toxicology tests showed "no known poison.".

"The suspicion that he was killed, that he was deliberately murdered, has been there all along and most Palestinians believe that," Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization's executive committee says. "I personally believed it because I was with him; I saw him; I saw the transformation and it certainly was unnatural."

Ashrawi said she had spoken with Arafat's doctors, who told her that they could not rule out the possibility that he had been poisoned.

"But we didn't have any kind of thread, any kind of evidence," she told CNN in July.

Only a few countries, including the United States, Israel and Russia, have stocks of polonium-210, a fact that would limit the list of possible suspects.

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