Palestinian president okays Arafat autopsy

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has given his permission to exhume the remains of his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, a top aide said on Monday, days after a Swiss institute reported finding elevated traces of a radioactive substance on the late leader’s belongings.

The findings by Switzerland’s Institute of Radiation Physics were inconclusive, but revived speculation that Arafat was poisoned.

The legendary Palestinian leader died on November 11, 2004, in a French military hospital, a month after falling violently ill at his government compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

The Swiss institute has said it would need to examine Arafat’s remains for conclusive findings, though a clear-cut outcome is not assured because of the decay of the substance, polonium-210, over the years. Last week, Abbas said he was willing, in principle, to allow an autopsy, provided he receives permission from religious authorities and Arafat’s family.

Arafat was buried in a mausoleum that has become the centrepiece of the Ramallah compound where Abbas’ headquarters are located. The exhumation would create a huge spectacle that could upset some devout Muslims, though there seems to be a widespread desire among Palestinians to determine the cause of death.

Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said on Monday that the Palestinian president has decided to invite the Swiss experts to Ramallah in order to examine the remains. “We are on the way to an autopsy,” Erekat said.

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