Yasser Arafat's body exhumed in Ramallah

Yasser Arafat's body exhumed in Ramallah

Ramallah - Scientists have exhumed the remains of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and gathered samples that will now be shipped overseas to test for radioactive polonium, aljazeera reported.

Workers began digging through Arafat's concrete mausoleum around midnight on Tuesday at the muqataa, the Palestinian Authority headquarters, where Arafat is buried, in Ramallah, in the West Bank.

Three teams of international investigators arrived before dawn and collected samples from his body and the surrounding soil.

A planned military funeral was cancelled, and Arafat's remains were quietly returned to his tomb later on Tuesday morning. The whole process took about 10 hours.

A nine-month investigation, the results of which were broadcast earlier this year, found elevated levels of polonium on Arafat's final personal effects, raising new questions about what killed the longtime Palestinian leader.

French legal experts have also begun to gather evidence on the case in preparation for a possible trial, including testimony from people in the West Bank, according to Palestinian officials.

The teams are operating under a near-media blackout imposed by the Palestinian Authority (PA), which had promised a transparent and open investigation.

None of the investigators contacted over the past few days were willing to speak on the record. And late on Monday, the PA said it would not allow lawyers representing Arafat's widow, Suha, to attend the exhumation, without offering any reason for its decision.

The French team includes three scientists - a toxicologist, a pathologist, and a generalist who works on legal medicine.

The Swiss team, from the Institut de Radiophysique in Lausanne, conducted the forensic analysis in the initial investigation.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) also asked experts from Russia to conduct their own independent analysis.

"One of them is from an organisation dealing with judicial medical experts, and the others are specialists connected to radiation," a source familiar with the Russian team said.

Only a handful of officials from the PA and Fatah were on hand for the exhumation.

Arafat's family was not present, according to Palestinian officials.

Al Jazeera's investigation studied the items Arafat had with him when he died: his comb, his toothbrush, even his iconic kaffiyeh, all of which were variously stained with his blood, sweat, saliva and urine.

The items were provided by Arafat's widow, Suha.

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