Arafat's Tomb Closed Off Ahead of Exhumation

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's tomb was screened from public view on Monday in what a Palestinian official said was preparation for forensic examination of his body.

AFP journalists saw the iconic leader's mausoleum, at the entrance to presidential headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, was surrounded by blue tarpaulins.

"Since this morning, Arafat's mausoleum was closed as a preliminary step in the investigation of his death," Tawfiq Tirawi, head of the Palestinian investigative committee on Arafat's death, told AFP.

Arafat died in a French military hospital near Paris on November 11, 2004 and with French experts unable to say what had killed him, many Palestinians are convinced he was poisoned by Israel.

French prosecutors opened a murder inquiry in August after Al-Jazeera television broadcast an investigation in which Swiss experts said they had found high levels of radioactive polonium on Arafat's personal effects.

A French team is due in Ramallah on November 26 to begin work on exhuming the body, Palestinian sources told AFP last month, adding that Swiss experts would arrive at the same time for an operation that could take "several weeks or a month."

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said on Sunday that Russia would also be helping the investigation although he did not specify in what role.

"We are currently in contact with French investigators, experts in Switzerland and the Russian government to open the tomb of Yasser Arafat," Abbas said in a speech in Ramallah to mark the eighth anniversary of his predecessor's death.

Polonium is a highly toxic substance rarely found outside military and scientific circles.

It was used to kill former Russian spy turned Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, who died in 2006 in London shortly after drinking tea laced with the poison.

The French murder inquiry was opened in late August at the request of Arafat's widow Suha, who had refused to give her permission for an autopsy at the time of his death.

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