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Arafat widow asks France to investigate suspected murder of the former Palestine leader

The widow and daughter of Yasser Arafat [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday asked a French court to investigate what they believe to be the murder of the former Palestinian leader. The allegations of Suha and Zahwa Arafat stem from a Swiss institute's report suggesting that Yasser Arafat was poisoned by a radioactive substance [Reuters report] before his death in a Paris military hospital in 2004. The examiners found a radioactive substance on Arafat's clothing, polonium-210 [IAEA backgrounder], which happens to be the same element used to kill former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko [BBC obituary] in London in 2006. The widow Suha further claims the destruction of her late husband's blood and urine samples four years ago is equally alarming since he was a head of state. Before a murder probe can begin, the French court will need to determine whether it has jurisdiction to investigate an alleged poisoning that occurred in another country.

Yasser Arafat's health began to fail in October 2004, at which point he was flown to a Paris hospital. Arafat died [JURIST report] at age 75 on November 11, 2004. The week leading up to Arafat's death proved to be highly tumultuous. Only a day before an Islamic judge ruled [JURIST report] that the former leader's life support system could not be switched off despite his near-death state and burial preparations. On November 4 CBC news reported [JURIST report] that Israeli television had announced Arafat's death, only to be contradicted shortly thereafter by Arafat's French hospital. Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker also confirmed the head of state's death that day.

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