RAMALLAH, West Bank — The remains of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will be exhumed Nov. 26, a Western diplomat said Monday, as investigators began determining how best to dig up the grave and extract samples.
A Swiss team, one of two groups set to conduct parallel probes into Arafat’s 2004 death, arrived in the West Bank and spent an hour inspecting the grave, located in a mausoleum outside Palestinian government headquarters in Ramallah. The Western diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
Tawfik Tirawi, the head of the Palestinian committee investigating the death, said Monday’s visit was meant “to check the place” ahead of the exhumation. The Swiss team is expected to return to the grave at the end of the month with the French investigators to exhume the body, and will be allowed only one chance to withdraw samples from the remains.
The two teams are acting separately on behalf of Arafat’s widow Suha Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, who each had misgivings about the other’s investigation. Suha Arafat and the Palestinian Authority have a history of rocky relations, and Palestinian officials have complained that they felt Suha Arafat was forcing an investigation on them.
The new probes into Arafat’s death come after a Swiss lab recently discovered traces of polonium-210, a deadly radioactive isotope, on clothes said to be his, which sparked new accusations that he was poisoned.
Arafat’s death in a French hospital in November 2004 has remained a mystery for many. While the immediate cause of death was a stroke, the underlying source of an illness he suffered in his final weeks has never been clear, leading to persistent, unproven conspiracy theories that he had cancer, AIDS or was poisoned.
Many in the Arab world believe Arafat, the face of the Palestinian independence struggle for four decades, was killed by Israel. Israel, which saw Arafat as an obstacle to peace, vehemently denies the charge.
It is not clear whether the exhumation will solve the mystery. Polonium-210 is known to rapidly decompose, and experts are divided over whether any remaining samples will be sufficient for testing.