By Thierry Lévêque
PARIS (Reuters) - Yasser Arafat's widow asked a French court on Tuesday to launch a murder investigation into the death of the Palestinian leader, after a report suggested he was poisoned by a radioactive element before his death in a Paris military hospital in 2004.
Arafat was flown to France in October 2004 from his battered headquarters, where he had been effectively confined by Israel for more than two and a half years, after a sudden collapse in his health.
He died a month later. Arafat aides at the time quoted doctors as saying he had suffered a brain hemorrhage and lost the use of his vital organs one by one.
Allegations of foul play quickly surfaced after the doctors who treated him said they could not establish a precise cause of the illness that led to his death.
The lawsuit filed by his widow Suha and their daughter Zahwa in the western Paris suburb of Nanterre, accused a person or persons unknown of premeditated murder.
Their complaint followed a statement by a Swiss institute that it had 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.
A legal source told Reuters the Nanterre court would, in the first instance, have to determine whether it had jurisdiction to examine whether a case of alleged poisoning that took place in another country could be legally investigated in France.
"Suha and Zahwa have complete faith in the French justice system," Suha Arafat said in a statement released by her lawyer.
"Suha and Zahwa Arafat do not, at this stage, advance any accusation against a specific party, be it a state, a group or an individual," it added.
DETAIL FROM LAWSUIT
Many Arabs see Israel as the prime suspect behind the mysterious decline of the man who led Palestinians' bid for a state through years of war and peace.
The Palestinian Authority has agreed to exhume Arafat's body from a limestone mausoleum in Ramallah for an autopsy and Tunisia has called for a ministerial meeting of the Arab League to discuss his death.
Earlier this month, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat's successor, met French President Francois Hollande and asked him to help form an international investigative group via the United Nations Security Council, Al Jazeera reported.
Arafat was confined by Israel to his Ramallah compound in the wake of a Palestinian uprising and was already in poor health when he suddenly collapsed in October 2004.
Foreign doctors flocked to his bedside from Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan amid public assurances from Arafat's aides over the next two weeks that he was suffering from no more than the flu.
But 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.
French officials refused to state the cause of death, citing privacy laws. Arafat's nephew Nasser al-Kidwa said a 558-page medical report released by France had shown no trace of known poisons but that the cause of death remained a mystery.
(Writing by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Catherine Bremer and Jon Boyle)