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Arafat exhumed

A woman walks by a mural depicting the face of the former Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat.

RAMALLAH — Forensic experts took samples from Yasser Arafat’s buried corpse in the West Bank today, trying to determine if he was murdered by Israeli agents using the hard- to-trace radioactive poison, Polonium.

Palestinians witnessed the funeral of their hero and longtime leader eight years ago, but conspiracy theories surrounding his death have never been laid to rest.

Many are convinced their icon was the victim of a cowardly assassination, and may stay convinced whatever the outcome of this autopsy. But some in the city of Ramallah where he lies deplored the exhumation.

“This is wrong. After all this time, today they suddenly want to find out the truth?” said construction worker Ahmad Yousef, 31, who stopped to watch the disinterment, carried out behind a wall of blue plastic near the Palestinian presidency headquarters.

“They should have done it eight years ago,” he said.

French magistrates in August opened a murder inquiry into Arafat’s death in Paris in 2004 after a Swiss institute said it had discovered high levels of  polonium on clothing of his which was supplied by his widow, Suha, for a television documentary. “Samples will be taken according to a very strict protocol

and these samples will be analysed,” said Darcy Christen, spokesman for Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland that carried out the original tests on Arafat’s clothes.

“In order to do these analyses, to check, cross-check and double cross-check, it will take several months and I don’t think we’ll have anything tangible available before March or April next year,” he added.

Arafat was always a freedom fighter to Palestinians but a terrorist to Israelis first, and a partner for peace only later. He led the bid for a Palestinian state through years of war and peacemaking, then died in a French hospital aged 75 after a short, mysterious illness.

No autopsy was carried out at the time, at the request of Suha, and French doctors who treated him said they were unable to determine the cause of death. (Reuters)

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