Russia helps Palestinians probe Arafat’s enigmatic death
RAMALLAH (Palestinian Territories) - Palestinians are coordinating with Russia, as well as Swiss and French experts, on the exhumation of late President Yasser Arafat, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said Sunday.
Arafat died in a French military hospital near Paris on November 11, 2004 and French experts were unable to say what had killed him, with many Palestinians convinced he was poisoned by Israel.
"We are currently in coordination with the French investigators, the Swiss experts, and also the Russian government to open the tomb," Abbas said in a speech marking the eighth anniversary of Arafat's death.
His comments were the first time Palestinian officials have said that Russia is involved in the new investigation into Arafat's death.
"We hope for new facts that we can tell our people and the public," Abbas said, adding that the investigation was "bigger and more important" that the "media uproar" created by an Al-Jazeera inquiry into Arafat's death.
French prosecutors opened a murder inquiry in August after Al-Jazeera television broadcast an investigation in which Swiss experts said they had found high levels of radioactive polonium on Arafat's personal effects.
A French team is due to arrive in Ramallah on November 26 to begin work on exhuming the body, Palestinian sources said last month, adding that Swiss experts would arrive at the same time for an operation that could take "several weeks or a month."
Polonium is a highly toxic substance rarely found outside military and scientific circles.
It was used to kill former Russian spy turned Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, who died in 2006 in London shortly after drinking tea laced with the poison.
The French murder inquiry was opened in late August at the request of Arafat's widow Suha, who had refused to give her permission for an autopsy at the time of his death.
This week, Nasser al-Qidwa, Arafat's nephew and the head of the Yasser Arafat Foundation, repeated his "opposition in principle" to an exhumation, "primarily because samples collected after eight years may not be clinically exploitable."
"Every Palestinian is convinced that Arafat was murdered," he said, "but even opening his tomb won't convince the sceptics of the truth."
The anniversary is being marked in the West Bank with a series of events, including candlelit vigils for the iconic leader.
In Gaza, local members of Arafat's Fatah movement said the ruling Hamas movement was preventing them for participating in ceremonies to mark the late president's death.