Arafat posters
Arafat posters AFP photo

Palestinian Authority officials said on Saturday they would exhume the body of former PA Chairman Yasser Arafat next week to see if he was poisoned with a radioactive isotope, AFP reported.

The announcement came as a group of international experts arrived in Ramallah to take samples of the remains of Arafat’s bones and clothing for further study in European labs.

"The tomb will be opened on (Tuesday) and experts will take samples the same day within a matter of a few hours," Tawfiq Tirawi told reporters in Ramallah, according to AFP.

He added that a reburial ceremony would be held with full military honors later the same day in Arafat's mausoleum at the heart of his Muqataa headquarters. Family members had earlier indicated the exhumation would probably go ahead on Monday.

Tirawi did not explain the apparent delay while stressing the procedure was painful but necessary to establish the truth of allegations that Israel may have poisoned Arafat.

"November 27 will be one of the most painful days of my life for personal reasons as well as patriotic, political and religious ones," the Palestinian inquiry chief said.

"But it is necessary in order to get to the painful truth behind Yasser Arafat's death," he added.

Tirawi added that members of his commission remained convinced that Israel had used the radioactive element polonium to kill Arafat.

"As patriotic Palestinians, we remain convinced that the Israelis assassinated president Arafat, and at the inquiry level, we have evidence leading in this direction," he said, according to AFP.

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.

Arafat's widow said this week that the 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. We must do it to turn the page on the great secrecy surrounding his death. If there was a crime, it must be solved."

Some experts have questioned if anything conclusive will be found because polonium has a short half-life and dissipates quicker than some other radioactive substances.

Arafat's nephew Nasser al-Qidwa has 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.

Medical files released for the first time several months ago 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 symptomswere not consistent with viral gastroenteritis, but also said poisoning seemed unlikely, even by a radioactive agent such as polonium-210.