Middle East

Arafat's widow calls his death a mystery

Suha Arafat poses near a portrait of her late husband and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat before watching the wreath laying ceremony after her husband's exhumation in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on television from her apartment in Sliema, outside Valletta, November 27, 2012. (REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi)

VALLETTA, Malta: Yasser Arafat's widow sees a spiritual significance in the timing of her late husband's exhumation, which came just two days before a U.N. vote on whether to recognize a Palestinian state.

"It was as if his soul was resurrecting" before the General Assembly vote, Suha Arafat told The Associated Press on Thursday at her home in Malta, sitting in front of a large portrait of Arafat, who for decades was the symbol of Palestinians' struggle for an independent state.

"It's as if he was saying, 'I am still alive and with you,'" she said.

Mrs. Arafat called the former Palestinian leader's death at the age of 75 in November 2004, a month after suddenly falling ill, "the most important mystery of the Middle East."

Arafat's remains were exhumed in the West Bank on Tuesday in a renewed investigation into his death. Palestinian officials claim he was poisoned by Israel, which has denied the allegations.

His remains were immediately reburied after a Palestinian forensics examiner took around 20 samples and handed them to Swiss, French and Russian experts.

"It was a hard day for me and my daughter, but it was a decision that had to be made," Mrs. Arafat said.

Mrs. Arafat pursued a formal inquiry after Swiss scientists found high-levels of polonium-210, a lethal radioactive substance, on personal affects she shared with Arab satellite TV station Al Jazeera as part of their investigation.

"I am not accusing anybody without having proof," she said. "He had a lot of enemies, (but) you cannot just accuse people."

Palestinian officials said it would take at least three months to get results, and even then they might not be conclusive. Polonium disintegrates rapidly, and experts have cautioned that too much time may have passed since Arafat's death to reach a conclusive result.

Mrs. Arafat praised the way the exhumation procedure was conducted "with respect," saying that she had full confidence in the Palestinian team that took the samples.

If there is evidence of a crime, Mrs. Arafat said it would be up to the Palestinian Authority to investigate.

"It will not be my work," she said.





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