Yasser Arafat to be exhumed: Poison suspicion to be pursued

(CBS News) Longtime Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died in 2004. At the time, his doctors in France said they could not establish a cause of death.

There have been conspiracy theories ever since. Now they are opening his grave to look for answers.

For the past eight years, Arafat has been a slowly fading image in the Palestinian territories. On Tuesday, he will become the focus of attention -- and a symbol of what his people see as yet another crime against them by the Israelis.

His body will be exhumed and samples taken to determine if he was poisoned by Polonium 210, a radioactive isotope that causes certain death. Palestinian official Mahmoud Labadi is in no doubt Arafat was the victim of foul play. He said, "This exhumation reveals the facts and reveals that Arafat's death was not a natural death."

Asked if he believe Arafat was poisoned, Labadi said, "Yes."

Arafat died in a Paris hospital almost exactly eight years ago after falling ill. His wife claimed he was a victim of Polonium, which can only be produced in lethal quantities by a state-run laboratory. A Swiss lab found what were described as "significant traces" of the radioactive substance on Arafat's underwear and toothbrush.

For now, Arafat's cement-covered mausoleum has been screened from public view.

Three separate samples will be taken from Arafat's body by specially-invited forensic teams from Switzerland, Russia, and France.

The results of the investigation are not expected for months, but Arafat's body will be immediately reburied with full military honors.

Not everyone is in favor of the exhumation. Khadija Arafat's sister, said, "My opinions are of little importance. Me and many other people think that there are more important things than exhumation."

Palestinians are convinced Israel is the culprit. What they really want to know is who helped them.

CBS News senior correspondent John Miller, a former FBI assistant director, said on "CBS This Morning" that proximity to Arafat would be of importance if poison is, in fact, the way he died. "The amount of proximity you would have to have to do this, in other words, there weren't half a dozen ... leaders or family members who got sick when somebody poisoned a meal. If, in fact, this turns out to be a poisoning, that means it had to be somebody one-on-one who could put this into his food or drink in a lethal amount."

For more with Miller, watch the video below.

However, if Polonium 210 was used to poison Arafat, it's not likely to be detected, according to Miller.

"I spoke with ... the former top weapons of mass destruction man for the FBI ... he said Polonium 210 has a shelf life -- or half-life of 138 days, which means if you have a pound of it, in 138 days, you'll have a half pound of it. So if you do the math, he's been interred since 2004. This would be a highly concentrated, but very small, amount. I think what they're probably not going to find is evidence of polonium. What they could find is a daughter product like lead 206, which it would leave behind, but that's not so unique that it couldn't have come from something else."

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