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Arafat’s remains exhumed to test for possible poisoning

The area around the burial site was hidden by tarpaulins. Palestinian officials laid wreaths after the tomb was resealed.

URIEL SINAI/GETTY IMAGES

The area around the burial site was hidden by tarpaulins. Palestinian officials laid wreaths after the tomb was resealed.

JERUSALEM — Remains of Yasser Arafat, the longtime Palestinian leader who died in 2004, were exhumed from his tomb in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Tuesday as part of an inquiry into whether he might have been poisoned, Palestinian officials said.

The investigation was ordered after a report on al-Jazeera in July presented what it said was evidence of possible poisoning, reviving suspicions surrounding Arafat’s death.

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Arafat’s wife, Suha Arafat, called for an exhumation.

Palestinian officials have long accused Israel of poisoning Arafat, who personified dreams of Palestinian statehood and shifted from embracing terrorist tactics to negotiating a peace deal. Israeli officials emphatically deny the claims.

Samples from Arafat’s body were taken at dawn at his tomb in the presidential compound and given to French, Swiss, and Russian specialists. Results are not expected for months.

Arafat died in November 2004 at age 75 in a French military hospital. Medical records showed he had died from a stroke caused by a bleeding disorder stemming from an underlying infection never identified.

The French hospital found no traces of poison. But al-Jazeera said it had turned over some of Arafat’s personal effects — including clothing— to the University of Lausanne’s Institute of Radiation Physics in Switzerland, which said it found unusually high levels of the very toxic radioactive isotope polonium-210.

But polonium-210 decomposes rapidly, and it was unclear whether samples eight years after his death would provide conclusive evidence.

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