BEIRUT

Middle East

Palestinians give French judges green light for Arafat probe

FILE - In this Thursday Sept. 25, 1997 file photo, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, center. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi, File)

RAMALLAH: The Palestinians Wednesday gave the green light to a delegation of French judges that was to travel to the West Bank to investigate suspicions Yasser Arafat was poisoned.

“We welcome the visit of the French committee that was formed to look into the late President Arafat’s death,” said a statement from Tawfiq Tirawi, head of the Palestinian committee investigating the circumstances of the veteran leader’s death in November 2004.

The statement effectively gives Palestinian approval to the delegation’s plans to visit.

His remarks came just hours after Arafat’s widow Suha said three investigative magistrates were making plans to travel to Ramallah following claims he may have died of poisoning by the radioactive substance polonium.

No date has been given for the trip which would involve forensic officers exhuming the body and taking samples for laboratory testing, she said in a statement released by her lawyer.

If the trip receives the go-ahead then “French scientific police could very soon take samples” from the body to further their investigations, she said.

Last month, French prosecutors opened a murder inquiry into Arafat’s death after pan-Arab news channel Al-Jazeera aired an investigation in which Swiss experts said they found high levels of polonium on his personal effects.

Polonium, a highly toxic substance rarely found outside military and scientific circles, was used to kill former Russian spy turned Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, who died in 2006 in London shortly after drinking tea laced with the poison.

Swiss radiology experts from Lausanne University Hospital have also said they would travel to Ramallah for a fact-finding mission to discuss the possibility of an exhumation.

No date has been set for their visit, but Tirawi said the Palestinians had received a letter from the laboratory indicating their experts would visit as soon as they received the formal go-ahead from Suha Arafat’s lawyer, Pierre-Olivier Sur.

“The Palestinian Authority received a letter from the Lausanne laboratory saying it was ready to send experts to Palestine to take samples from Yasser Arafat’s body and examine them,” Tirawi said. “The Palestinian Authority has given its agreement to the Swiss institute to send a Swiss delegation.”

The experts were expected to arrive after getting the green light from Sur, after which the team would “come and begin its work.”

Arafat died in a French military hospital near Paris on Nov. 11, 2004, and French experts were unable say what had killed him, with many Palestinians subscribing to the belief that he was poisoned by Israel.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 06, 2012, on page 9.

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