Arafat posters
Arafat posters AFP photo

Former Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's widow said on Thursday that next week's exhumation of her husband is "very painful" but also necessary because of suspicions Israel poisoned him.

"It is very painful. It is a shock, and it is not easy for myself or my daughter," Suha Arafat told AFP in Ramallah.

"But if you must know the truth, it is necessary for our people, for the families of the martyrs of Gaza," she said, referring to Gazans who died during Israel’s counterterrorism operation, Pillar of Defense, which ended on Wednesday.

"We must do it to turn the page on the great secrecy surrounding his death," Suha told AFP. "If there was a crime, it must be solved."

France opened a murder enquiry into Arafat’s death in late August, after his family launched legal action following reports he may have died from radioactive polonium near Paris in 2004. This was suggested in an Al-Jazeeranews investigation in which Swiss experts said they found high levels of radioactive polonium on his personal effects.

Polonium is a highly toxic substance rarely found outside military and scientific circles.

The PA launched preliminary work on opening the grave last week and the exhumation will begin on Monday in the presence of French and other foreign experts, reported AFP.

The decision to recover the remains of Arafat has not been without its share of controversy.

His widow insisted that the procedure was in no way "degrading," but Arafat's nephew Nasser al-Qidwa said he found the whole process disturbing and akin to a "desecration."

"No good can come out of this at all," Qidwa said in an interview. "It does no good to the Palestinians."

"I do not understand this exhumation," he lamented. "The French took all the samples they wanted (at the time of his death)."

Qidwa previously said that he favors an international commission of enquiry into his uncle’s death instead of exhuming his remains.