PA agrees to exhume Arafat, form international probe
Published Wednesday 04/07/2012 (updated) 05/07/2012 15:25
Palestinian boys hold a placard depicting President Mahmoud Abbas and
the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during a demonstration marking
the 7th anniversary of his death, in the West Bank village of Kfar Kadum,
near Nablus on November 11, 2011. (Reuters/Abed Omar Qusini)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The Palestinian Authority has agreed to set up an international investigation into the death of President Yasser Arafat, and has no problem exhuming his body from a Ramallah grave, officials said Wednesday.
Arafat's widow Suha called on Tuesday for the Palestinian leader's body to be examined after Al Jazeera reported that a Swiss institute found his personal belongings contained abnormal levels of a rare and radioactive element called polonium.
Arafat, who fell ill while besieged in his compound in Ramallah during the second intifada, eventually passed away in a Paris hospital in 2004. Mystery surrounded his cause of death.
"There is no religious or political reason that prevents further investigation into this matter, including exhuming his body by a specialized and trusted party at the request and approval of his family," presidency spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh told official media Wafa.
PLO official Saeb Erekat said the PA intends to form an international committee to investigate Arafat's death, along the lines of the UN tribunal into the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri.
Erekat said two committees, one formed of government ministers and another from Fatah's central committee, have already been investigating Arafat's death since 2004.
But Erekat expressed appreciation for the new revelations in the Al Jazeera report, saying "After finishing with the family and religious procedures, there is no doubt that an international committee will be formed to investigate reasons of Arafat’s death and sides involved."
Abu Rudeineh told Wafa President Mahmoud Abbas had ordered one of the existent committees to follow up on the new reports and seek assistance from Arab and international experts in order to establish the cause of death.
"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.
Reuters contributed to this report