French authorities have launched a murder inquiry into the death of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Arafat’s widow, Suha, who lives in the French capital, started legal proceedings last month, claiming that her late husband, who died in a French military hospital in 2004, was poisoned with polonium-210, the same substance that killed Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.

yasser arafat

Arafat died in 2004. His widow believes he was assassinated by Israel.

The accusation follows an investigation by Al Jazeera, which revealed that Swiss scientists had discovered high levels of the radioactive element on the toothbrush of the former leader. Though the findings were inconclusive, the suggestion of polonium has reinforced the long-standing belief of many Palestinians that Arafat was assassinated on the orders of Ariel Sharon, an accusation Israel has always denied.

Speaking to the Associated Press, Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor, said: "It's not really our concern because the complaint is not lodged against Israel. If there is an investigation, we hope that it will shed light on this matter."

Should French authorities find a link between Israel and Arafat’s death, it would be hugely embarrassing for the Jewish state, though more severe consequences are unlikely as neither Israel or Palestine are signatories to the International Criminal Court.

suha arafat

Suha Arafat has backed a move to exhume her late husband's body

The investigation could lead to the exhumation of Arafat’s body from its tomb in Ramallah, a move backed by Suha Arafat and already given a green light by Palestinian authorities.

However, even if a fresh autopsy were performed on the body, results may still prove inconclusive due to the rate at which polonium-210 decays.

According to medical reports, Arafat died of a massive stroke brought on by a blood condition. His symptoms prior to death - stomach cramps and diarrhoea - were inconsistent with polonium poisoning, leading many to suspect the investigation is politically motivated.