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Palestinians seek international probe of Arafat’s death

Published: July 5, 2012 | 12:29 pm
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Senior Palestinian officials call for formation of international investigation committee into veteran leader Arafat’s death following report suggesting his death was caused by radioactive poisoning

The Palestinians called on Wednesday for an international probe into veteran leader Yasser Arafat’s death after reports he may have been poisoned, raising the possibility of an exhumation.

The news came a day after Al-Jazeera broadcast the results of a nine-month investigation it commissioned on Arafat’s 2004 death that found the Palestinian leader could have been poisoned with the radioactive substance polonium.

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erakat called for a probe into Arafat’s death.

“We call for the formation of an international investigation committee, modeled on the international investigation committee set up to look into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri,” he told AFP.

Arafat’s widow Suha Arafat, in an interview with AFP on Wednesday, said she would push for her husband’s body to be exhumed so further tests could be carried out.

“I will immediately address an official letter to the Swiss laboratory that conducted the tests … to authorize the collection of samples from the remains of the martyr Arafat to verify the results and accelerate the uncovering of the truth about the assassination of Arafat,” she said.

Tawfiq Tirawi, who led a Palestinian probe into Arafat’s death, said Palestinian authorities would allow an analysis of samples from the leader’s remains – which are buried in Ramallah in the West Bank – if his family agreed.

“After the Al-Jazeera broadcast, I met today with president (Mahmud) Abbas and recommended accepting an analysis of the body of the martyr president Arafat, and Abbas for his part agreed on the condition that the family … accepts,” he said prior to Suha Arafat’s statement.

The Al-Jazeera investigation centered on forensic testing of items belonging to Arafat, including clothing worn by him that were handed to Suha by the Paris hospital where the Palestinian leader died in November 2004 at the age of 75.

Suha Arafat gave Al-Jazeera permission to take the items, which contained strands of Arafat’s hair and traces of sweat, urine and blood, for testing at several European laboratories, including in Switzerland.

Francois Bochud, head of the Institute of Radiation Physics at the University of Lausanne, who cooperated with Al-Jazeera on the investigation, said the testing revealed high levels of polonium.

“The conclusion was that we did find some significant polonium that was present in these samples,” he told Al-Jazeera.

But to confirm the theory that the Palestinian leader was poisoned by polonium it would be necessary to exhume and analyze Arafat’s remains, Bochud said.

“If (Suha Arafat) really wants to know what happened to her husband (we need) to find a sample – I mean, an exhumation… should provide us with a sample that should have a very high quantity of polonium if he was poisoned,” he said.

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