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Scientists to exhume Yasser Arafat's remains to investigate poison theories

Exhuming the remains of Yasser Arafat may finally answer many nagging questions about the former Palestinian leader’s death in 2004, according to a Sky News report. Swiss, French and Russian scientists will examine the remains Tuesday to see if he was poisoned, as some Palestinians believe.   

Speaking by phone from her home in Malta, Arafat’s widow, Suha, told AFP: "It is very painful. It is a shock, and it is not easy for myself or my daughter. But we must do it to turn the page on the great secrecy surrounding his death. If there was a crime, it must be solved."

Sky News reports that French judges in charge of the probe arrived Sunday evening in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where Arafat's mausoleum stands in the grounds of the Muqataa complex, where Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has his headquarters.

Speculation has surrounded Arafat's death since his health quickly deteriorated before he died at 75 at the Percy military hospital near Paris. At his family’s request, an autopsy was never performed and French doctors were not able to say what killed the Palestinians' first democratically-elected president.  

Al-Jazeera reported at the time that medical records said he suffered a stroke.

A theory that he was poisoned by Israel gained ground in July when Al-Jazeera reported Swiss findings showing abnormal quantities of the radioactive substance polonium on Arafat's personal effects. At Suha’s request, France opened a formal murder inquiry in late August.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman Mark Regev dismissed the investigation as misguided.

"Israel was not involved in the death of Arafat," Regev told AFP in July. "All the medical files are in the hands of the Palestinians and it was not Israel who is preventing their publication."

The exhumation process and examination will be hidden from public view by blue plastic sheeting, designed to give discretion to a procedure that many -- including some family members -- have compared to a desecration.

Experts believe that little of Arafat's tissue will remain and scientists will only be able to secure samples of his bone -- which may have degenerated into powdered form -- or threads of his clothing.

Polonium has a short half-life and dissipates more quickly than other radioactive substances, so some experts have also questioned if anything conclusive will be found in the investigation.

Click for more from Sky News.