Palestinians May Exhume Yasser Arafat's Body

World | July 5, 2012, Thursday // 13:14|  views

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat greets his supporters 13 September 2003 in Ramallah, West Bank. Photo by BGNES

The widow of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat confirmed she wants his body exhumed for tests as lab results showed he may have lost his life as a result of being poisoned by polonium.

Suha Arafat told CNN she is requesting the body be exhumed "to make sure 100% of the existence of polonium."

A Swiss doctor said Wednesday they found high levels of toxic polonium-210 on some of Arafat's belongings, though it does not mean he suffered radiation poisoning.

"We have evidence there is too much polonium, but we also have hints from the medical records that this may not be the case," said Francois Bochud, director of the Institut de Radiophysique in Lausanne, Switzerland. "The only way to resolve this anomaly would be by testing the body."

If it turns out that Arafat, who died in 2004, was poisoned, "Any result will be significant for us to help know the truth," said Suha Arafat, the former leader's widow. "It is a form of closure for our family. Closing one wound but opening a new one, wondering who is responsible."

Bochud's research team tested Arafat's toothbrush, clothing and keffiyeh, the trademark black-and-white headscarf he often wore, Bochud said.

But getting data from items like clothing "is really tricky business," said Cham Dallas, a professor and toxicologist at the University of Georgia's Institute for Health Management and Mass Destruction Defense.

"We don't have enough information to make any definitive statement, but it does seem a bit of a stretch" to conclude that Arafat was poisoned by polonium-210, he told CNN in a telephone interview.

Arafat died at age 75 at a Paris military hospital after he suffered a brain hemorrhage and slipped into a coma. Palestinian officials said in the days before his death that Arafat had a blood disorder -- though they ruled out leukemia -- and that he had digestive problems.

Rumors of poisoning circulated at the time, but Palestinian officials denied them, and then-Foreign Minister Nabil Sha'ath said he "totally" ruled them out.

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