Yasser Arafat
Yasser Arafat Flash90

French prosecutors on Tuesday opened a murder inquiry into the death of former Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in 2004, the BBC reported.

Arafat’s family launched a case last month over claims that he was poisoned with polonium-210, a radioactive element.

French officials said prosecutors had agreed to begin a murder inquiry, but they have yet to appoint an investigating judge, the report said, adding that the French legal system is obliged to take the matter very seriously because of its diplomatic aspect, but the medical profession is generally skeptical about claims of radioactive poisoning.

In July, the Swiss Radiophysics Institute found traces of polonium on Arafat's clothing provided by his widow for an Al Jazeera television documentary.

Arafat’s widow, Suha, called for an autopsy of her husband’s body after the Swiss lab found the traces of polonium on his belongings.

A committee looking into Arafat’s death asked the Swiss Radiophysics Institute to examine his remains. The laboratory said earlier this month it will help investigate Arafat’s death only if it receives guarantees its findings will not be used for political purposes.

Medical files recently released for the first time portray Arafat as a robust 75-year-old whose sudden health crisis, a month before his 2004 death, was initially blamed on viral gastroenteritis.

An Israeli specialist, Dr. Joseph Zimmerman, who reviewed the medical file, said Arafat's early symptoms were not consistent with viral gastroenteritis, but also said poisoning seemed unlikely, even by a radioactive agent such as polonium-210.

Zimmerman pointed out that Arafat's platelet counts dropped suddenly and stayed low and that he eventually exhibited signs of liver dysfunction.

“This is not typical of poisoning,” he said, adding that a bacterial infection could have caused these symptoms.

Nasser Kidwa, Arafat’s nephew and the Chairman of the Yasser Arafat Institute, recently said that Arafat’s family and the institution he is leading accuse Israel of murdering Arafat by poisoning him with polonium.

“Since the death of Yasser Arafat we said that he was poisoned, but we had no proof. Following the investigation conducted by Al-Jazeera, there is no doubt that we have attained the proof,” Kidwa said, adding, “We blame Israel for murdering Arafat and poisoning him and demand that those responsible be judged for murder.”