Forensic experts have exhumed the buried remains of the late Palestinian leader Yassar Arafat in Ramallah in the West Bank. Testing could reveal whether he was poisoned when he died eight years ago.
A Palestinian doctor watched by Swiss, Russian and French experts exhumed Arafat's bones on Tuesday, according to Palestinian sources in Ramallah. The tomb was then resealed out of public view. For weeks the site had been hidden by blue tarpaulins.
The samples collected are to be tested for the radioactive substance polonium as part of a new investigation into whether Arafat was poisoned. The probes will be flown to laboratories in the three countries involved. The analyses are expected to take several months.
Many Palestinians believe that Arafat was the victim of foul play when he died of a sudden illness in Paris in 2004. There was no autopsy and doctors were unable at the time to say what killed the Palestinians' first democratically-elected president.
France opened a formal murder inquiry into Arafat's death in late August at the request of Arafat's widow Suha.
Radioactive traces in clothing
Lausanne's University Hospital had carried out tests on Arafat's clothing in July that revealed traces of the radioactive element polonium, which could have been used to poison Arafat.
"Samples will be taken according to a very strict protocol and these samples will be analyzed," said Darcy Christen, spokesperson for the Lausanne University Hospital. "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."
French judges in charge of the investigation had arrived in Ramallah on Sunday to participate in the forensic process.
mz/ccp (Reuters, dpa, dapd)