Forensic experts dug up the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s corpse today – to see if he was poisoned by Israeli spies.
Scientists opened Arafat’s grave in the West Bank and took samples from his body eight years after he died suddenly in mysterious circumstances.
They are looking for traces of the deadly radioactive metal polonium-210 following claims it was used to assassinate the Palestinian icon.
Officials erected blue tarpaulins to shield the scene at Arafat’s grand stone mausoleum near the presidential headquarters in Ramallah.
Arafat – chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation for 35 years – was taken ill suddenly in October 2004 after more than two years confined in his complex in Ramallah by the Israeli Army.
As his condition deteriorated he was flown to a military hospital Paris but died on November 11.
His widow Suha Arafat refused to allow an autopsy and the body was returned to his homeland for a state funeral.
Many Palestinians believe their hero was murdered by Israel – which viewed him as a terrorist.
Earlier this year Suha gave her late husband’s headscarf and other belongings to documentary makers from Al-Jazeera, who sent the items for tests in Switzerland.
Scientists reportedly found traces of polonium-210, suggesting it was present in his body in the weeks before he died.
The same poison was used to assassinate the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London in November 2006.
Litvinenko died from polonium-210 poisoningA tiny amount of the highly radioactive toxin ingested with food can cause the body’s vital organs to shut down.
French magistrates opened a murder inquiry following the Al-Jazeera’s documentary in July and sent investigators to Ramallh to quiz Arafat’s inner circle.
Today scientists from France, Switzerland and Russia were allowed to take samples from his corpse.
Darcy Christen, spokesman for Lausanne University Hospital in Switzerland, said: “Samples will be taken according to a very strict protocol and these samples will be analysed.
“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 before March or April next year.”
But some in the city deplored the exhumation of the Palestinian hero.
Construction worker Ahmad Yousef, 31, who stopped to watch the disinterment, said: “This is wrong. After all this time, today they suddenly want to find out the truth? They should have done it eight years ago.”
Read more: THE SUN