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The Palestinian leadership will petition the International Criminal Court if it finds proof Yasser Arafat was poisoned.

Tawfiq Tirawi, head of the Palestinian commission investigating Arafat’s death, said: “If it is proved that Arafat was poisoned, we will go to the international court.”

His remarks were made at a press conference which took place several hours after the veteran leader’s remains were exhumed for testing by a team of international experts.

The removal of the samples was conducted by a Palestinian doctor in the presence of experts from Switzerland, Russia and France.

The controversial exhumation came two days before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was to present a formal request for upgraded status at the United Nations, which would raise its rank from that of an observer entity to an observer state.

Such a move would allow the Palestinians to join many UN organisations or international treaties, such as the ICC or the Fourth Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians.

The resolution is expected to easily pass in the 193-nation General Assembly after which the Palestinians would have to apply to become party to the Rome Statute, and only then could they be permitted to petition the ICC.

“This would be the first case for Palestine after getting international recognition as a (UN) non-member state,” Tirawi said.

The investigation will cap eight years of speculation about whether the former president was murdered, as many Palestinians believe.

Rumours and speculation have surrounded Mr Arafat’s death ever since a quick deterioration of his health before he died at the Percy military hospital near Paris in November 2004 at the age of 75.

Doctors were unable at the time to say what killed the Palestinians’ first democratically-elected president and an autopsy was never performed, at his widow Suha’s request.

But many Palestinians believed he was poisoned by Israel – a theory that gained ground in July when Al-Jazeera reported Swiss findings showing abnormal quantities of the radioactive substance polonium on Arafat’s personal effects.

France opened a formal murder inquiry in late August at Suha’s request.

Telegraph/ AFP

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