* Lab wants assurances work will be used for political ends
* TV documentary said traces of polonium isotope found on
* Unexplained death came at time of Israeli siege
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Aug 8 (Reuters) - A Swiss laboratory
will help investigate the unexplained 2004 death of Palestinian
leader Yasser Arafat only if it receives guarantees its findings
will not be used for political purposes, a spokesman for the lab
said on Wednesday.
A committee looking into the Palestinian president's death
has asked the Swiss Radiophysics Institute, which found traces
of a deadly polonium isotope on Arafat's clothing provided by
his widow for a recent Al Jazeera television documentary, to
examine his remains.
"We have been invited by the Palestinian National Authority
and we are currently studying the most appropriate way of
responding to this request," Darcy Christen, spokesman for the
institute, said in an emailed reply to a Reuters question.
"Meanwhile, our main concern is to guarantee the
independence, the credibility and the transparency of any
involvement that we may have," Christen said.
Arafat was a guerilla-turned-statesman who came to symbolise
the Palestinian quest for statehood throughout decades of war
and peace with Israel.
After being stricken with an ailment which remains unknown,
the president was airlifted to France in 2004 when he fell ill
during an extended siege Israel mounted on his compound during a
Palestinian uprising. He died shortly thereafter.
His death aroused rumors among Palestinians of an
assassination, which many blamed on Israel. An investigation
into the case could rekindle Palestinian hostility toward Israel
and widespread suspicions that a local collaborator may have
poisoned him under directions from the Jewish state.
Tawfiq Tirawi, head of the committee looking into the death,
told reporters the Swiss institute was seeking assurances before
sending experts to the Palestinians' administrative capital in
Ramallah, but did not disclose the nature of those guarantees.
"The content of our correspondence pertained to the
necessity of their arrival and our welcoming of their presence
in Palestine as quickly as possible, but they have some legal
issues and legal procedures," Tirawi said.
Exhuming Arafat's body from its limestone mausoleum in the
centre of the Palestinian Authority's presidential compound in
Ramallah would be a deeply emotional move for Palestinians, but
one for which the local investigative committee says the
government and his family are prepared.
"We've asked for (the Swiss team's) arrival at full
speed...the leadership has resolved to grant them any
investigations they might request," Tirawi said.
After the Arafat documentary was aired, his widow Suha
petitioned a French court to open a murder probe, claiming the
circumstances of his death had been mysterious and French
forensic authorities had disposed of samples taken from his body
with undue haste.
Palestinian officials have called for an international
investigation into the case, along the lines of the United
Nations Special Tribunal for slain Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik
al-Hariri, and the Arab League has formed a special committee to
advocate for a United Nations inquiry.
(Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva and Ali Sawafta in
Ramallah; Editing by Michael Roddy)