RAMALLAH: The remains of iconic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat were exhumed yesterday, eight years after his death, with experts set to test for evidence he was poisoned by polonium.
Shortly after the grave was briefly opened for forensic experts to take samples, an official warned that if there was evidence that Arafat was poisoned, the Palestinian leadership would petition the International Criminal Court to open an investigation.
The exhumation process began before dawn and was carried out in secrecy, with the grave carefully shielded from the public eye.
“At 5am (0300 GMT), experts began to remove the stones and began opening the grave in an orderly fashion,” a Palestinian source said on condition of anonymity. Only a Palestinian doctor was allowed to directly touch the remains and remove the samples, but the process was carried out in the presence of the Swiss, Russian and French experts, he said.
Palestinian officials had originally planned a military ceremony as his remains were reburied, but a source said that the samples were collected without removing the body from the grave, so no reburial was necessary.
“The samples were taken from Arafat’s remains from inside the grave and the samples were then transferred to the mosque,” the source said, referring to a building adjacent to the Muqataa presidential complex in Ramallah.
Speaking shortly after the exhumation process was completed, Tawfiq Tirawi, who heads the Palestinian investigation into Arafat’s death, said Ramallah would petition the International Criminal Court in The Hague if it found proof that the veteran leader was poisoned.
“If it is proved that Arafat was poisoned, we will go to the international court,” said Tirawi, referring to the ICC, while stressing that nothing would be done until the results were available, which was likely to take several months.
The ICC can only open an investigation if it is asked to do so by the UN Security Council or by a recognised state, with the Palestinians poised to seek an upgrade in their UN status later this week. Should they successfully win the upgrade at the General Assembly tomorrow as expected, they will apply to become party to the Rome Statute, after which they would be able to petition the ICC.