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Experts exhume Palestinian leaders body

Experts have exhumed Yasser Arafat’s body searching for evidence of poison.

Former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat was surrounded by Tunisian and Egyptian doctors just before his death. Picture: AFP

RAMALLAH - The body of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was exhumed on Tuesday by a team of international experts trying to discover if he was poisoned, as many Palestinians believe.

French magistrates opened a murder inquiry in August into Arafat's death in Paris after a Swiss institute said it had discovered high levels of radioactive polonium on his clothing, which was supplied by his widow, Suha.

Arafat, who led the Palestinians' bid for a state through years of war and peacemaking, died in Paris aged 75 in 2004 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.

But allegations of foul play immediately surfaced, with many locals pointing the finger at Israel, which confined Arafat to his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah for the final two and a half years of his life after a Palestinian uprising erupted.

Israel has denied any wrongdoing, inviting the Palestinian leadership to release all his medical records, which were never made public following his death.

The official radio station Voice of Palestine reported that Arafat had been disinterred on Tuesday after work began at dawn.

Experts from Switzerland, France, Russia and the Palestinian territories took part in the exhumation, which was carried out far from the public gaze, behind blue sheeting carefully erected around his limestone mausoleum in Ramallah.

Workers strung up a huge Palestinian flag to cover the top of the city centre landmark, which lies inside the presidential compound of Arafat's successor, Mahmoud Abbas.

"Samples will be taken according to a very strict protocol and these samples will be analysed," said Darcy Christen, spokesman for the 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.

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