Yasser Arafat exhumed: PLO leader's body to be tested for polonium poisoning

Arafat’s Body To Be Exhumed Tuesday

Arafat’s Body To Be Exhumed Tuesday

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Nov. 24 2012 2:58 PM

Yasser Arafat’s Body To Be Exhumed Tuesday

A Palestinian security officer stands in front of plastic tarpaulin erected around the mausoleum of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, in the West Bank city of Ramallah

Photo by ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images

The tomb of former Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat will be opened Tuesday as investigators seek to establish whether he was poisoned eight years ago. Forensic experts from France, Switzerland and Russia will take samples for independent analysis, reports CNN. The tomb will then be closed again and Arafat will be reburied with a military ceremony. “It is a painful necessity,” said Tawfiq Tirawi, head of the Palestinian investigation committee.

After Al Jazeera reported findings by a Swiss institute that it had discovered high levels of the radioactive substance polonium in Arafat’s personal effects, a French court opened a murder inquiry, notes Reuters. Tirawi said the Palestinians had "evidence which suggests Arafat was assassinated by Israelis". Israel denies it was involved in Arafat’s death.


The BBC’s Richard Galpin points out that while most Palestinians are convinced Israel had something to do with Arafat’s death, some scientists question the validity of testing for polonium poisoning eight years after the fact when its half life is less than five months. The Swiss Institute of Radiation Physics says eight years is the limit to detect traces of a radioactive substance.

The claims that polonium was detected in Arafat’s belongings appear to contradict the medical report produced after his death that was leaked to the New York Times  in 2005. At the time, the paper said that the report “suggests that poisoning was highly unlikely.”

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.