The Guardian reports: Yasser Arafat was buried eight years ago to a chorus of gunfire before a crowd of thousands amid the rubble of his Ramallah headquarters.
On Tuesday, his corpse was quietly dug up again in the middle of the night, shielded from prying eyes, to test a suspicion that the Palestine Liberation Organisation leader was poisoned with a radioactive substance.
The tests were in part prompted by a French murder inquiry requested by Arafat’s widow. But there’s a good chance they will not provide the answers many Palestinians want to hear. And even if the tests do show he was poisoned, they are also likely to raise unsettling questions many may not want to face.
At Arafat’s funeral in 2004, Palestinians packed the Muqata – the old British administration building that served as his headquarters after his return to the West Bank – and every rooftop within sight as his coffin was navigated through the chanting, shooting crowds, past the rubble left by the Israeli siege to a hastily dug grave site.
The Muqata has been rebuilt, after large parts were destroyed by Israeli tanks, and transformed into a sprawling presidential palace of Jerusalem stone. Arafat’s mausoleum is now a towering quadrangle of limestone and glass, a reflecting pool, and an honour guard.
But all of that was hidden behind large blue tarpaulins, hung to shield the exhumation from outsiders as at around midnight workers began the lengthy process of drilling down through metres of concrete poured over the coffin.
Before dawn, Arafat’s remains were finally reached. A Palestinian doctor and foreign forensic experts looked at the state of the corpse and decided against attempting to remove the whole thing. The Palestinian doctor instead took only samples, which were moved to a mosque where they were prepared for examination by international teams from France, Russia and Switzerland.
The Telegraph reports: Tawfiq Tirawi, head of the Palestinian commission investigating Arafat’s death, said: “If it is proved that Arafat was poisoned, we will go to the international court.”
His remarks were made at a press conference which took place several hours after the veteran leader’s remains were exhumed for testing by a team of international experts.
The removal of the samples was conducted by a Palestinian doctor in the presence of experts from Switzerland, Russia and France.
The controversial exhumation came two days before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was to present a formal request for upgraded status at the United Nations, which would raise its rank from that of an observer entity to an observer state.
Such a move would allow the Palestinians to join many UN organisations or international treaties, such as the ICC or the Fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians.