JERUSALEM (JTA) — The tomb of former Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat was closed to the public in preparation for the exhumation of his body. A French investigative team is scheduled to arrive on Nov. 26 to take samples from his remains, which are buried in Ramallah in the West Bank. A Russian investigative team also will be there on the same day, reportedly at the request of the Palestinian Authority.
It will take about two weeks to dig up the grave, since it was covered in several tons of cement, in order to prevent the body from being illegally exhumed, according to the German news agency dpa.
French prosecutors in August opened a murder inquiry into the death of Arafat. Arafat’s wife, Suha, had filed legal action in July asking French authorities to look into claims that he was poisoned. Traces of radioactive polonium were found on Arafat’s belongings. Polonium is a highly toxic substance that is rarely found outside military and scientific circles.
Arafat led the Palestine Liberation Organization for 35 years and became the first president of the Palestinian Authority in 1996. He fell violently ill in October 2004 and died two weeks later, at the age of 75, in a Paris military hospital.
The medical report published after Arafat’s death listed the immediate cause as a massive brain hemorrhage resulting from an infection. Doctors ruled out foul play; some have contended that Arafat died of AIDS.
Many Palestinians continue to believe that Arafat was poisoned by Israel because he was an obstacle to peace. Israel has denied any involvement.
Direct relatives of Arafat object to the exhumation.