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Arafat's Body Exhumed In Murder Inquiry


Yasser Arafat during an official meeting at his headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah in 2004
Palestinian officials say the remains of Yasser Arafat have been reburied soon after samples were taken to be tested for possible signs of poisoning.

The Palestinian leader died in Paris in 2004 but the cause of his death remains disputed.

Many in the Arab world believe that Arafat, the first president of the Palestinian Authority, was poisoned by Israel. Israel strongly denies the charge.

French magistrates opened a murder inquiry in August after a Swiss institute said it discovered levels of radioactive polonium on Arafat's clothing.

Earlier on November 27, Arafat's body was exhumed and samples were taken from his body in his mausoleum in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The samples were given to Swiss, French, and Russian experts, who will examine them in their countries.

Palestinian authorities had closed off the Muqataa presidential compound that contains the mausoleum, and the media were kept away from the site.

Arafat's remains had been expected to be reburied later in the day with full military honors, but Palestinian officials speaking on condition of anonymity said the grave was simply resealed after the samples were taken.

Polonium was the substance that killed former Russian intelligence agent and Kremlin critic Aleksandr Litvinenko in London in 2006.

Public reaction to Arafat's planned exhumation was mixed in the West Bank.

Some Palestinians welcomed what they saw as a chance to uncover the truth.

"All the Palestinian people are interested in the investigation process," one man told Reuters, "because it will give better results so we can find out who is responsible for killing the late President Abu Ammar [Arafat]."

Others argued it would be a show of disrespect.

"We know in our religion that it's wrong to open the grave of someone who's dead," a woman said, "because of respect for him."

It is not clear when the results from the tests on the samples will be known. Eight years is considered the limit to discover any traces of the fast-decaying polonium.

Arafat, who led Palestinians' bid for an independent state for four decades, was a controversial figure in his lifetime.

In 1994, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, together with Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, for his commitment to work toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Palestinian critics accused him of being too compromising with Israel and of corruption.

Israel accused him of ordering attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers. For two years before his death, Israeli forces had confined him to his Ramallah compound.

Based on reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters