World Press -
Written by Al-Jazeera, August 28, 2012
Thursday, 30 August 2012 13:16
Decision follows allegations that deceased Palestinian leader may have been poisoned before he died in 2004
A French court has opened a murder inquiry into the 2004 death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, prosecutors said, following claims by his wife that he may have been poisoned.
French officials on Tuesday said prosecutors had agreed to begin an inquiry, but they have yet to appoint an investigating judge.
Tuesday's announcement comes after Suha Arafat last month asked a court in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre to launch a murder investigation following revelations that a Swiss institute had discovered high levels of the radioactive element polonium-210 on Arafat's clothing.
That substance was found to have killed former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.
Arafat died in a Paris military hospital in November 2004, a month after being airlifted - when his health collapsed - from his battered headquarters in Ramallah, where he had been effectively confined by Israel for more than two and a half years.
Allegations of foul play have long surrounded Arafat's demise after French doctors who treated him in his final days said they could not establish the cause of death.
An investigating magistrate, yet to be named, will lead the French probe into possible premeditated murder, a legal source said.
A lawyer for Suha Arafat told Europe 1 radio that the French court was correct in recognising its jurisdiction to investigate the case, since Arafat died in France.
"The tests done in Switzerland showed that Mr Arafat, in all likelihood, died through poisoning," lawyer Marc Bonnant said. "This hypothesis must be proved, and if that's the case, then it's premeditated murder."
Suha Arafat has said her suspicions were raised when the hospital where her husband was treated acknowledged that they had destroyed his blood and urine samples.
The Palestinian Authority plans to exhume Arafat's body from a limestone mausoleum in Ramallah for an autopsy and Tunisia has called for a ministerial meeting of the Arab League to discuss his death.
"Speculation around the death has permeated particularly with Palestinians unhappy about the explanation for how he died," Al Jazeera's Andrew Simmons, reporting from Paris, said.
"Pressure was put on the French to open their inquiry," our correspondent said. "And they may well go to Ramallah soon to actually unearth the remains of Arafat and carry out further tests."
"Separate to that, the PA wants an international investigation into Israel's role."
Yigal Palmor, spokesperson for Israel's foreign ministry said: "This does not pertain to us. The complaint lodged by Suha Arafat with the French police does not address Israel or anyone in particular. If the French justice system has decided to open an investigation, we hope that it will shed light on this matter." [Source: Al Jazeera and agencies]
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