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Was Yasser Arafat poisoned? (+video)

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died in 2004, but the cause of death has yet to be determined. Samples were taken from Arafat's corpse on Tuesday; investigators hope to determine whether he was poisoned by spring 2013. 

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Arafat was always a freedom fighter to Palestinians but a terrorist to Israelis first, and a partner for peace only later. He led the bid for a Palestinian state through years of war and peacemaking, then died in a French hospital aged 75 after a short, mysterious illness.

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No autopsy was carried out at the time, at the request of Suha, and French doctors who treated him said they were unable to determine the cause of death.

But allegations of foul play surfaced immediately. Arafat had enemies among his own people, but many Palestinians pointed the finger at Israel, which confined the leader to his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah for the final two and a half years of his life, after a Palestinian uprising erupted.

Israel denies killing him. Its leader at the time, Ariel Sharon, now lies in a coma from which he is expected never to awake. Israel invited the Palestinian leadership to release all Arafat's medical records, which were never made public following his death and still have not been opened.

Polonium, apparently ingested with food, was found to have caused the death of former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. But some experts have questioned whether Arafat could have died in this way, pointing to a brief recovery during his illness that they said was not consistent with radioactive poisoning. They also noted he did not lose all his hair.

Eight years is considered the limit to detect any traces of the fast-decaying polonium and Lausanne hospital questioned in August if it would be worth seeking any samples, if access to Arafat's body was delayed as late as "October or November."

Not all of Arafat's family agreed to the exhumation. Arafat's widow watched on television from her house in Malta.

"This will bring closure, we will know the truth about why he died. I owe this answer to the Palestinian people, to the new generation, and to his daughter," a tearful Suha told timesofmalta.com.

(Additional reporting by Chris Scicluna in Malta; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Douglas Hamilton, Tom Pfeiffer and Jason Webb)

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