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Arafat’s Remains Exhumed in Probe

By CHARLES LEVINSON, RAMALLAH, West Bank (WSJ): Former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s remains were exhumed on Tuesday to test for radioactive poisons as part of a French inquiry into his death.
The decision to unearth Arafat’s body from his grave in Ramallah revives years of speculation about the Palestinian leader’s death in 2004. Many Palestinians have long suspected Israel had a hand in his death, which Israel denies. If the samples show foul play, it could deal another blow to dim peace hopes or stoke violence.

Palestinian officials said they would take the case to the International Criminal Court if experts from three nations—France, Switzerland and Russia— determined Arafat had been poisoned.

The head of the Palestinian team investigating Arafat’s death, Tawfiq Tirawi, said the case would be Palestinians’ first appeal to the court. Only the U.N. Security Council or a recognized state can ask The Hague-based tribunal to open an investigation. The exhumation occurred on the same day France said it would back the Palestinian Authority’s bid for enhanced U.N. status at a General Assembly vote this week.

“This would be the first case for Palestine after getting international recognition as a nonmember state,” Mr. Tirawi said.

French prosecutors could also launch a formal murder probe of their own.

French investigating magistrates, along with Swiss and Russian experts, oversaw the exhumation, which began before dawn Tuesday. Arafat’s cube-shaped mausoleum at Palestinian Authority headquarters in Ramallah was cloaked in blue tarpaulin for the process.

The samples will be tested at laboratories in Moscow, Geneva and Paris. Results are expected in three to four months.

Arafat suddenly deteriorated in health in 2004, at the height of the Palestinian uprising against Israel and after being besieged by Israeli forces inside his Ramallah compound for more than two years. Those with him at the time said he almost overnight began suffering from massive stomach problems.

He was flown to a French military hospital outside Paris and died on Nov. 11, 2004, three weeks after symptoms appeared. French doctors conducted a probe to determine whether he was contaminated by radioactive elements and concluded he wasn’t. French medical reports were unclear about the origins of Arafat’s ailments, and no autopsy was carried out at his widow’s request.

Many Palestinians blamed Israel. They pointed to Arafat’s sudden collapse, and the fact that in April 2004, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he no longer considered himself bound by a three-year-old commitment to President George W. Bush not to harm the Palestinian leader.

On Tuesday, Mr. Tirawi said his committee long ago concluded that Israel had poisoned Arafat, which Israel denies.

Israeli officials note that Palestinian officials are the ones who long prevented publication of Arafat’s medical files.

After Arafat’s death, Palestinian leaders showed little interest in pursuing the case. A former aide to Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, said the leadership made a decision that they were better off moving on.

But this year, Arafat’s widow, Suha Arafat, turned over her husband’s personal effects to al-Jazeera, as part of an investigation by the Qatari satellite channel. Al-Jazeera had the effects tested by Switzerland’s Institute of Radiation Physics at the University of Lausanne. Experts there found traces of the radioactive isotope polonium-210 on Arafat’s personal effects.

That is the same substance that was used to kill Russian ex-spy and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.

In July, after al-Jazeera aired its findings, Ms. Arafat and her daughter Zahwa lodged a complaint with French authorities, who opened a preliminary investigation. Ms. Arafat and her daughter didn’t accuse any individual, state or group, but said they wanted to know the truth.

Ms. Arafat is a controversial figure among some Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, who have accused her of opening the case to pressure the Palestinian Authority into raising her living allowance. Ms. Arafat’s lawyers declined to comment.

Palestinian leaders weren’t enthusiastic about exhuming the body and reopening such a fraught file. Under Islamic law, it is forbidden to unearth Muslim graves and many Palestinians opposed the decision on those grounds. Arafat’s nephew and the former Palestinian ambassador to the U.N., Nasser al-Qudwa, said it would desecrate Arafat’s corpse and could stoke violence and unrest if tests came up positive for polonium, since it degrades quickly.

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Information for Indian tourists travelling by land:- 72 hours (-) C-19 report, CCMC form and Antigen Test at entry point