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Ramallah resident Tony Abdo said he supports the exhumation, expecting it to prove that Arafat did not die a natural death.

Suspicions about Arafat’s death flared again over the summer, when the Arab satellite TV channel Al-Jazeera took some of Arafat’s belongings, provided by his widow Suha, to a Swiss lab for testing. The belongings included what Mrs. Arafat said were her husband’s fur hat and a woolen cap with some of his hair, a toothbrush, and clothing with his urine and blood stains.

The Institute of Radiation Physics discovered elevated traces of polonium-210, the same substance that killed Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB officer turned Kremlin critic, in 2006.

Mrs. Arafat urged the Palestinian Authority, the West Bank-based self-rule government headed by Abbas, to exhume her husband’s remains and also asked the French government to launch a separate investigation. Eventually, Abbas also requested that Russia join the probe.

But the exhumation and the testing of the remains might not resolve the mystery. Polonium-210 decomposes rapidly, and some experts say it is not clear whether any remaining samples will be sufficient for testing.

For decades, Arafat was the symbol of the Palestinians’ struggle for an independent state. After returning from exile to the Palestinian territories in the early 1990s, as part of interim peace deals with Israel, he zigzagged between leading negotiations with Israel and condoning violence as a means of obtaining political goals.

Arafat, along with two Israeli leaders, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his commitment to work toward peace with Israel. He later presided over the Palestinians as they waged a violent uprising against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, the territories they seek for an independent state.

Israel accused him of ordering attacks against Israelis, and confined him to his Ramallah compound. He stayed there for more than two years before falling ill.

In his later years, Arafat also faced criticism at home, with some accusing his political circle of corruption and the pocketing of large amounts of aid. But he remains a widely revered figure in the Palestinian territories, and his portrait frequently appears in government offices and street posters.