RAMALLAH, West Bank -- When Yasir Arafat, the longtime Palestinian leader, was buried eight years ago, people crowded the streets and the rooftops in a tumultuous outpouring of passion; the air here was thick and acrid as militiamen fired off their weapons for hours.
On Tuesday, as part of an inquiry into whether he was poisoned, Mr. Arafat's remains were exhumed in a subdued, reflective atmosphere, with his people more fractured and less certain of their future than when he was alive.
Mr. Arafat died in a Paris hospital in 2004 at the age of 75, an event that was swiftly surrounded by contention and mystery. Israeli officials have categorically denied Palestinian accusations of involvement. And though lab test results are expected in about three months, according to experts, they may leave open more questions than they resolve about the Palestinian suspicions.
"Our people are convinced that Israel committed this act," Tawfiq Tirawi, a Palestinian official who leads the Palestinian investigating committee, told reporters here in a news conference. "We are seeking evidence."
But many Palestinians here noted that even if traces of poison were found, it would be impossible for forensics experts to identify any culprits. Others have noted that only Palestinians had direct access to Mr. Arafat before his death, broadening the focus of blame for any possible poisoning.
The area around the tomb had been cordoned off for two weeks as laborers carefully removed layers of stone and concrete, and the mausoleum was shielded from view with huge blue tarpaulin sheets. Officials said that the final steps began at dawn and that a Palestinian doctor took samples from the remains on the spot, handing them to assisting French, Swiss and Russian forensic teams.
The tomb was then reclosed with a modest military ceremony, and fresh wreaths were laid.
The minister of health of the Palestinian Authority, Dr. Hani Abdeen, offered few details, saying that the remains were "exactly in the state you would expect to find in a body that has been buried for eight years."
Mr. Arafat became ill in October 2004 after being confined under an Israeli Army siege and virtual house arrest for more than two years in his Ramallah compound, as the violence of the second Palestinian intifada and the Israeli clampdown seethed. He was flown by helicopter out of his headquarters and transferred to a military hospital in Paris. When he died about two weeks later, no cause was announced.
Records eventually emerged showing that he had died of a stroke that resulted from a bleeding disorder caused by an underlying infection. The infection was never identified. The hospital found no traces of poisons it had tested for.
But in July, Mr. Arafat's widow, Suha, called for an exhumation in an interview with Al Jazeera, the Arabic television channel based in Qatar, after it reported that Mr. Arafat might have been poisoned with polonium, a radioactive element associated with K.G.B.-style assassination intrigue. The report was based on what the news channel said was an in-depth investigation using some of Mr. Arafat's personal effects, provided by Mrs. Arafat, including clothing he had worn just before falling ill, his toothbrush and his trademark black-and-white checkered headdress.
Doctors at the Institute of Radiation Physics at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland found what they said were unusually high levels of the highly toxic radioactive isotope polonium 210 on certain items but said his remains would have to be tested to determine whether he had been poisoned.
Mrs. Arafat followed the interview with Al Jazeera with a request that the French authorities open a murder inquiry. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president and Mr. Arafat's successor, called on Russian experts to help.
For decades, Mr. Arafat, popularly known as Abu Ammar, relied on both negotiating and often bloody resistance. Many Israelis considered him an arch terrorist, even as many Palestinians saw him as a symbol of their unity and the embodiment of their cause.
On Tuesday, the Palestinians here struck nostalgic notes. Now bitterly divided, they are a people whose choices have become starker: In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority says it is committed to a peaceful path of negotiations with Israel -- though after nearly two decades of intermittent talks, a state remains elusive. In Gaza, the rival Islamic militant group Hamas has been spearheading the path of violent resistance, including driving eight days of fierce fighting with Israel and then negotiating a cease-fire.
"Confronting the Israeli occupation is more important than digging up the grave of Arafat," said Salim Bast, 60, a retired librarian in Ramallah. "Our problem is still alive."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.