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Arafat’s grave dug up; poison tests weeks off

– Eight years after Yasser Arafat’s mysterious death, his political heirs opened his grave Tuesday and let forensics experts take samples from his remains, defying strong cultural taboos in search of evidence that the icon of Palestinian nationalism was poisoned.

Palestinians have claimed for years that Israel poisoned Arafat, who died in a French hospital. Israel has denied the charges.

The exhumation marked the end of months of procedural wrangling but only the beginning of the testing. Palestinian officials said it would take at least three months to get results, and even then, they might not be conclusive.

Workers opened Arafat’s tomb before daybreak Tuesday, laying bare the remains 13 feet below ground level, the Palestinian health minister said.

A Palestinian forensics examiner took 20 samples and handed them to Swiss, French and Russian experts, officials said.

By midmorning, the grave was resealed, and Palestinian officials laid wreaths of flowers to signal Arafat’s reburial.

The three teams will separately analyze the samples for possible poison, including polonium-210, a lethal radioactive substance detected in elevated amounts on some of Arafat’s clothing this summer.

Polonium was used in the 2006 killing of Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB officer turned Russian government critic.

Litvinenko blamed the Kremlin for poisoning him.

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