Yasser Arafat: French magistrates seek Ramallah visit

A Palestinian weeps following the death of Yasser Arafat (11 November 2004) Yasser Arafat led the Palestine Liberation Organisation for 35 years

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French judges investigating the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat are seeking to travel to Ramallah to look into allegations that he was poisoned.

Arafat's widow, Suha, said the judges wanted to exhume his body and take samples for laboratory testing.

A murder inquiry was launched last month after Swiss experts said they had found traces of the toxic radioactive chemical polonium-210 on his clothing.

Arafat died in France in 2004 after a stroke resulting from a blood disorder.

However, many Palestinians continue to believe Arafat was poisoned by Israel, which saw Arafat as an obstacle to peace and had put him under house arrest. Israel has denied any involvement.

On Tuesday, Suha Arafat asked the Palestinian Authority and Arab League to co-operate with the French magistrates' investigations.

Arafat: The Swiss claims

  • "Unexplained, elevated" level of polonium-210 on Arafat's clothing, keffiyeh and toothbrush
  • Highest levels found on items with bodily fluids
  • Toothbrush measured 54 millibecquerels (mBq); underwear 180mBq compared with 6.7mBq from another man's specimen underwear
  • More than 60% of polonium was not from natural sources

Source: Al-Jazeera TV

"I respectfully ask the Palestinian Authority and the Arab League to suspend all initiatives while the French justice system is looking into the case," she said in a statement, according to Reuters.

The French murder investigation, launched last month, offered "the incontestable guarantee of independence and neutrality", she added.

The Palestinian Authority has said that it would be willing to order the exhumation of Arafat's body from the stone-clad mausoleum in which it is buried in the presidential compound in Ramallah in the West Bank.

Arafat, who led the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) for 35 years and became the first president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1996, fell violently ill in October 2004 at his besieged West Bank compound.

Two weeks later he was flown to a French military hospital in Paris, where he died on 11 November 2004 at the age of 75.

Polonium-210

  • Highly radioactive and toxic element
  • Present in foods in low doses
  • Small amounts created naturally in the body
  • Can be manufactured by bombarding certain isotopes with neutrons
  • Has industrial uses such as in anti-static devices
  • Very dangerous if significant dose ingested
  • External exposure not a risk, only if ingested
  • Present in tobacco

He fell violently ill in October 2004 and died two weeks later in Paris at the age of 75.

In 2005, the New York Times obtained a copy of Arafat's medical records, which it said showed he died of a massive haemorrhagic stroke that resulted from a bleeding disorder caused by an unknown infection.

Independent experts who reviewed the records told the paper that it was highly unlikely that he had died of Aids or had been poisoned.

Earlier this year, an investigation by al-Jazeera TV, working with scientists at the Institute of Radiation Physics (IRA) at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, reported that there were "significant" traces of polonium-210 present in samples taken from Arafat's personal effects, including his trademark keffiyeh.

In July, al-Jazeera TV reported that the Institute of Radiation Physics (IRA) at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland had found "significant" traces of polonium-210 present in samples taken from Arafat's personal effects, including his trademark keffiyeh.

However, a spokesman for the institute said the symptoms described in Arafat's medical records were not consistent with polonium poisoning.

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