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Workers exhuming Yasser Arafat's body in probe of death

By the CNN Wire Staff
November 13, 2012 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The work could take up to two weeks
  • The exhumation of the body of Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat begins
  • The inquiry was launched after Arafat's widow, Suha Arafat, lodged a formal complaint
  • This comes after French authorities opened a murder inquiry into his death

Ramallah, West Bank (CNN) -- Work began Tuesday to exhume the body of Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat amid an investigation of his 2004 death.

The exhumation process, which started with the removal of the mausoleum's glass and its marble tombstone, could take up to two weeks due to the delicate work that needs to be done by hand, a Palestinian source said.

The exhumation comes after French authorities opened a murder inquiry into his death this year after high levels of a radioactive substance were found on some of his personal belongings.

Read more: Palestinian leader signs off on Arafat exhumation, PLO official says

The inquiry was launched after Arafat's widow, Suha Arafat, lodged a formal legal complaint for murder.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas subsequently approved the exhumation of Arafat's body from his mausoleum, which is in the Palestinian presidential compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Suha Arafat on future Middle East peace
Yasser Arafat poisoned to death?
Questions surround Arafat's 2004 death

Read more: Arafat's widow wants body exhumed after test for radioactivity

A CNN crew at the scene saw a huge tarp surrounding the mausoleum and said workers were starting to remove the tombstone.

Arafat died at age 75 at a Paris military hospital after he suffered a brain hemorrhage and slipped into a coma. In the days before his death, Palestinian officials said that he had a blood disorder -- though they ruled out leukemia -- and digestive problems.

Rumors of poisoning circulated at the time, but Palestinian officials denied them, and then-Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Sha'ath said he "totally" ruled them out.

Read more: French prosecutors launch murder inquiry in Arafat's death

But a Swiss doctor has said that investigators had found high levels of toxic polonium-210 on some of Arafat's belongings.

Francois Bochud, director of the Institut de Radiophysique in Lausanne, Switzerland, said his researchers had tested Arafat's toothbrush, clothing and keffiyeh, the distinctive black-and-white headscarf he often wore.

A body fluid stain contained 180 megabecquerels per liter of the radioactive isotope, while a typical sample would contain 5 megabecquerels per liter, Bochud said. A becquerel is a unit of measurement of radioactivity.

The fabric of Arafat's clothing, without body fluid, contained less than 10 megabecquerels per liter, Bochud said.

Suha Arafat told CNN she wanted her husband's body exhumed so investigators could be "100% sure" of the presence of polonium.

CNN's Sara Sidner contributed to this report.

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