Remains of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat have been exhumed in Ramallah, in the West Bank, to help determine the cause of his death.
Witness said Tuesday that the remains were moved out of Arafat’s mausoleum and taken to a mosque, where Palestinian doctors collected samples for handing over to international teams from France, Russia and Switzerland.
Three doctors, three forensic scientists, the health minister, the justice minister, and heads of the lawyers and doctors syndicates are present during the exhumation, the sources said.
The Palestian attorney general, with the help of French prosecutors, had started interviewing dozens of Palestinian officials close to Arafat about the conditions the leader was living under before his death in 2004.
Three teams of international investigators travelled on Monday to the muqataa, the Palestinian Authority (PA) headquarters, where Arafat is buried.
They could be seen bringing equipment to the site throughout the day.
A nine-month investigation by Al Jazeera found elevated levels of the substance in Arafat’s final personal effects.
The findings, which were broadcast in July, suggest that there was also a high level of polonium in Arafat’s body when he died, raising fresh questions about what killed the longtime Palestinian leader.
The cause of Arafat’s death has long remained a mystery.
Some reports speculated that he died from AIDS, cirrhosis of the liver, or other diseases, but medical experts who studied his final medical records told Al Jazeera that he was in good health until he suddenly fell ill in October of 2004.
Many Palestinians have long believed that Arafat was poisoned by Israel, a charge Tirawi repeated on Saturday.
French legal experts have also begun to gather evidence on the case in preparation for a possible trial, including testimony from people in the West Bank, according to Palestinian officials.
The teams are operating under a near-media blackout imposed by the PA, which had promised a transparent and open investigation.
None of the investigators contacted over the past few days was willing to speak on the record.
And late on Monday, the PA said it would not allow lawyers representing Arafat’s widow, Suha, to attend the exhumation, without offering any reason for its decision.
On Monday night, workers with hand tools drilled through more than four metres of concrete over Arafat’s body. Investigators have collected several samples on the way down to look at polonium levels.
The whole process was to take about 10 hours.