Source: Palestinians begin work to open Arafat grave

Palestinians on Tuesday began work to open the grave of the late Yasser Arafat ahead of an exhumation of his body for a murder probe, a source close to his family told AFP.

"Today they started removing concrete and stones from Arafat's mausoleum and the work will last for almost 15 days," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"There are several phases," he said, referring to the operation to open the tomb ahead of a visit by French, Swiss and Russian experts to forensically test Arafat's remains over suspicions he was poisoned with the radioactive substance polonium.

"It starts with the removal of stone and concrete and cutting the iron [framework] until they reach the soil that covers the body, which will not be removed until the arrival of the French prosecutors, Swiss experts and Russian investigators," the source said.

On Monday, Arafat's mausoleum, which is located at the Muqataa presidential headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah was screened from public view with blue tarpaulins ahead of the operation to open the grave.

Work to actually begin taking samples is expected to start at the end of the month after the French and Swiss delegations arrive on 26 November, officials have said.

"Because of Arafat's position and his status, no one will be allowed, under any circumstances, to photograph his body while the samples are taken," the source told AFP.

Arafat died in a 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.

At the weekend, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said Russia would also be helping the investigation, although he did not specify in what role.

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

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