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Swiss experts asked to conduct Arafat autopsy

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Swiss experts have been invited to the West Bank to test Yasser Arafat's remains for possible poisoning, the chief investigator looking into the 2004 death of the Palestinian leader has said.

Tawfik Tirawi did not give further details, but the lab confirmed that it had been invited.

"We are currently studying how to adequately respond to this demand," Darcy Christen, a spokesman for the Swiss institute, said on Wednesday.

"Meanwhile, our main concern is to guarantee the independence, the credibility and the transparency of any possible involvement on our side."

The announcement follows weeks of indecision on the autopsy issue by officials in the Palestinian Authority (PA), the self-rule government that Arafat established.

Their conflicting positions and hesitation triggered speculation they were trying to quietly kill the investigation.

Last month, the Swiss Institute of Radiation Physics detected elevated levels of radioactive polonium-210 on stains on Arafat's clothing, reviving longstanding rumours in the Arab world that the Palestinian leader was poisoned.

'PA interference'

Al Jazeera initiated the investigation and published the findings of the Swiss lab, prompting Arafat's widow, Suha, who provided the lab with his clothing, to demand that her husband's remains be examined.

Saad Djebbar, head of the legal team for the Palestinian leader’s widow, said that further interference by the Palestinian Authority into the investigation would be rejected.

"Mrs Arafat filed a case with the appropriate judiciary authority in France. This case is about first-degree murder that started in Palestine, but was finished in France. Therefore the French have jurisdiction here. Mrs Arafat does not want the process to be hindered by efforts of the Palestinian Authority," Djebbar said.

Djebbar said that if the Palestinian Authority takes over the investigation it will be controlled by the PA, which would "prejudice the process".

"We thank Abu Mazen [PA leader Mahmoud Abbas] for co-operating, but it comes too late.

"Mrs Arafat will have a better chance of an independent investigation with the French, rather than leaving the matter to people who are part of the investigation," Djebbar said.

The Institute of Radiation Physics said its findings were inconclusive and that only exhuming Arafat's remains could bring possible clarity.

Lab officials also said polonium decays quickly and that an autopsy would need to be done within a few months at most.

They also said they needed a formal invitation to proceed with testing.

Arafat died in a French military hospital on November 11, 2004, a month after falling ill at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where he spent the last three years of his life under Israeli siege.

French doctors have said he died of a massive stroke and suffered from a blood condition known as disseminated intravascular coagulation.

The records were inconclusive about what brought about the condition, which has numerous possible causes.

The Palestinians, who from the start claimed Arafat was killed, launched an investigation that went nowhere and was dormant for years until last month's developments.

Several senior Palestinian officials, including Arafat nephew Nasser al-Kidwa, have claimed Arafat was poisoned by Israel, without presenting evidence. Israel has vehemently denied any involvement.

Palestinian officials have said they want an international probe that has the authority to summon Israeli officials. The Palestinian Authority also asked the Arab League to help pursue an international investigation.

The League has said it would seek a UN investigation and would decide on the details in September.


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