The remains of iconic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat were exhumed today and experts began taking samples to be tested for signs of poisoning, Palestinian sources said.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, they said the process began at 5:00 a.m. (0830 IST) in the presence of French, Swiss and Russian experts, and that samples were being collected from the remains.

There was no official confirmation that the process was under way, and the scene of the exhumation was carefully shielded from public view.

For weeks now, Arafat’s grave in a mausoleum on the Muqataa presidential site from which he once governed has been hidden from view by blue tarpaulins, and media are being kept away from the area.

The mufti of Jerusalem, Mohamed Hussein, arrived at the Muqataa today morning and told AFP he would be present at the opening of the tomb.

The samples being collected are to be tested for the radioactive substance polonium as part of a new investigation into whether Arafat was poisoned, which comes eight years after his 2004 death in a French hospital.

The probe was prompted by an investigation carried out by the Al-Jazeera news channel, which commissioned a Swiss lab to test personal effects belonging to the late leader that were given to them by his wife Suha.

The tests revealed the presence of the toxic substance polonium, and prompted calls for the exhumation of Arafat’s remains for new testing.

France opened a former murder inquiry into Arafat’s death in late August at Suha’s request, and French judges in charge of the investigation arrived in Ramallah on Sunday to participate in the exhumation process.

(This article was published on November 27, 2012)
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