Yasser Arafat and his wife Suha hold hands prior to Arafat's departure from Ramallah, Oct. 29, 2004.
Yasser Arafat and his wife Suha hold hands prior to Arafat's departure from Ramallah, October 29, 2004. Photo by AP
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French prosecutors have launched a formal murder investigation into the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 2004, AFP news agency reported Tuesday.

AFP reported that the prosecutor's office in the town of Nanterre west of Paris had ordered a murder investigation following a formal complaint by Arafat's widow, Suha Arafat. The probe will be carried out by one or more investigating magistrate, who will have the power to summon witnesses.

Suha Arafat filed a complaint for murder against persons unknown last month following the revelation by a Swiss laboratory that it had found traces of highly radioactive polonium on Arafat's underwear.

Arafat died on November 11, 2004 at Percy military hospital near Paris.

Allegations of foul play have long surrounded Arafat's demise in November 2004 after French doctors who treated him in his final days said they could not establish the cause of death.

The controversy was reignited by an Al Jazeera expose in which the Swiss Radiophysics Institute said it found "surprisingly" high levels of polonium-210 on Arafat's clothing - the same substance used to kill former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.

The Swiss institute said, however, that the symptoms described in the Palestinian president's medical reports were not consistent with the radioactive agent.

"Madame Arafat hopes that the authorities will be able to establish the exact circumstances of her husband's death and uncover the truth, so that justice can be done," lawyer Pierre-Olivier Sud said in a statement.

The exact nature of the legal complaint by Arafat's 48-year-old widow, Suha, is yet to be determined but it is expected to be presented before the end of this month, the lawyer said.

It would be presented against a person or persons unknown, the lawyer said in a statement.

The Palestinian Authority agreed last week to a request from Suha Arafat - who lives in Malta and France - to exhume her husband's body from a limestone mausoleum in the West Bank city of Ramallah for an autopsy.

"I want the world to know the truth about the assassination of Yasser Arafat," Suha Arafat told Al Jazeera, without making any direct accusations, but noting that both Israel and the United States regarded him as an obstacle to peace.

Allegations of foul play - and of Palestinian involvement in it - have long marked factional fighting among Palestinians.

The latest revelation coincides with renewed tensions within Arafat's Fatah movement, now headed by his successor President Mahmoud Abbas, and between Fatah and Hamas, the Islamist movement which controls the Gaza Strip.

Tunisia has called for a ministerial meeting of the Arab Lague to meet to discuss Arafat's death.

In June, Abbas met French President Francois Hollande and asked him to help form an international investigative committee through the UN Security Council, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Al Jazeera.

Confined by Israel to his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah for three years after a Palestinian uprising erupted, an ailing Arafat collapsed in October 2004.

Looking weak and thin - and telling aides "God willing, I will be back" - he was airlifted to a military hospital in France, where he slipped into a coma and died on November 11, 2004.

Rumours circulated that he had died from anything from stomach cancer to poisoning to AIDS. French officials, citing privacy laws, refused to give details of the nature of his illness.