Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stands in front of a banner with a picture of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during a ceremony marking the eighth anniversary of his death in the West Bank city of Ramallah. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
Russia will join an international investigation to determine
whether the first Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat, was
murdered, current Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas says.
French and Swiss experts are due to exhume Arafat's body in
Ramallah later this month in an attempt to discover how he
died after an Al Jazeera documentary in July suggested he was
killed by a rare radioactive poison.
"There's full cooperation these days between us and the
French investigators and Swiss experts, and also from the
Russian government," Abbas told a rain-drenched ceremony on
the eighth anniversary of the death in France of the former
guerrilla who led Palestinians' campaign to create a state
through years of war and peace.
Abbas asked Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for
Moscow's help during talks in Jordan last week, Palestinian
Allegations of foul play have long surrounded the demise of
The case returned to the headlines in July when a Swiss
institute said it had discovered high levels of the
radioactive element polonium-210 on Arafat's clothing
supplied by his widow Suha, who called for exhumation of her
Polonium is the radioactive substance found to have killed
former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.
Three French forensic experts are expected to visit Arafat's
limestone sepulchre in the West Bank capital of Ramallah on
Nov. 20, and investigating magistrates plan to visit four
days later, a diplomatic source told Reuters.
Headed by the intelligence chief at the time of Arafat's
death, the Palestinians' own forensic team has repeatedly
butted heads with French investigators over their supervision
of the exhumation, proposed for this month.
Palestinian official Wasel Abu Yousef described contacts with
the French as ongoing but insisted that interrogating any
Palestinians must be done through Abbas's administration, "as
a matter of sovereignty," he told Reuters.
Abbas also on Monday accused Qatar-based Al Jazeera of
"hyping" the affair.
The investigation is unfolding as West Bank leaders gear up
for a U.N. General Assembly vote on Palestinians becoming an
"observer state" later this month.
Arafat's direct kin have rejected an exhumation.
"We say openly that our leader, our founder was assassinated
by Israel with poison. The overwhelming majority of the
Palestinian people is convinced of this," Nasser al-Kidwa,
Arafat's nephew and a senior official in Abbas's Fatah group,
said on Saturday.
"Some have spread about the repugnant idea that Arafat's tomb
should be opened up and desecrated. There is no justification
for this: we know the real truth," he said.