Last updated: 22 November, 2012

Arafat exhumation painful but necessary

Yasser Arafat’s widow said on Thursday that next week’s exhumation of the late Palestinian leader was “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 the West Bank capital of Ramallah from where Arafat governed until his death in a French hospital in November 2004.

“But if you must know the truth, it is necessary for our people, for the families of the martyrs of Gaza,” she said in reference to the 163 Palestinians who died in the course of Israel’s week-long Gaza air campaign.

“We must do it to turn the page on the great secrecy surrounding his death,” Suha added in an interview with AFP.

“If there was a crime, it must be solved.”

Mystery has surrounded Arafat’s death ever since a quick deterioration of his condition saw his passing at the Percy military hospital in a suburb of Paris at the age of 75.

French doctors were unable to say what killed him and an autopsy was never performed, on Suha’s request.

But many Palestinian believed he was poisoned by the Israelis. That theory gained ground in July, when Al-Jazeera television reported Swiss findings showing abnormal quantities of the radioactive substance polonium on Arafat’s personal effects.

France followed that up in late August by opening a formal murder inquiry at Suha’s request. Polonium was the same substance that killed Russian ex-spy and fierce Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.

The Palestinians 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.

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.”

Qidwa argued that most Palestinians already believed that Arafat had been poisoned and did not require any further proof.

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