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Arafat's Condition Deteriorates

Yasser Arafat's condition deteriorated dramatically overnight as his coma deepened, a hospital spokesman said Tuesday, and top Palestinian officials met with his medical team.

French doctors treating Arafat and Palestinian officials in Paris have all denied reports the ailing leader is already dead, reports CBS News Correspondent Elaine Cobbe. The hospital where he has been treated for the past ten days says he has slipped into a deeper coma and the prognosis is unclear.

Two Palestinian officials also denied media reports that Arafat had died, including Nasser al-Kidwa, his nephew and the Palestinian Authority's ambassador to the United Nations, who said he had spoken to Arafat's doctors.

"The situation is very difficult, but he is still alive," al-Kidwa told The Associated Press.

Arafat is suffering from brain hemorrhage, a top aide told reporters at the Palestinian leader's headquarters Tuesday. The aide, Tayeb Abdel Rahim, said Arafat started bleeding on Monday evening.

Former U.S. diplomat Edward Abington, now a paid consultant for the Palestinian Authority, told CBS News Correspondent Charles Wolfson that Arafat is "expected to die in a matter of hours."

Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat told the AP that Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia saw Arafat during a visit of more than two hours to the Percy Military Training Hospital in southwest Paris.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath did not say what the diagnosis was. But speaking on CNN, he said Arafat's brain, heart and lungs were still functioning.

"The man is not suffering," Shaath said, adding that Arafat "has typical life support given to people in a coma."

Arafat's wife, Suha, has used French privacy laws to bar access to the Palestinian leader and there have been frequently conflicting reports about the status of his health.

Earlier, Gen. Christian Estripeau, spokesman for the hospital, said the 75-year-old Palestinian leader was in a coma and has been for the past week. It was the first time the French medical team treating Arafat publicly acknowledged that he was in a coma.

"President Yasser Arafat's health worsened in the night," said Estripeau. "His coma, which led to his admission to the intensive care unit, became deeper this morning." Arafat was put in intensive care on Nov. 3, five days after he was rushed to France.

Estripeau said doctors were withholding a prognosis but that his deterioration marked "a significant stage."

Shaath said Arafat was in a "very difficult and serious" situation. He spoke after he, Qureia and top Arafat lieutenant Mahmoud Abbas met with the doctors. Shaath did not say what the diagnosis was, or whether the delegation had seen Arafat.

The news of Arafat's deteriorating condition came amid a dramatic dispute between Mrs. Arafat and Palestinian officials whom she accused of trying to topple the leader after four decades in power.

But Shaath said after the visit that the dispute with Arafat's wife was over.

In an angry outburst, Suha Arafat on Monday had accused the leaders of traveling to Paris to try to oust her husband from power and "bury" him "alive."

According to the Nobel Prize official Web site, Mohammed Abdel-Raouf Arafat As Qudwa al-Husseini was born on August 24, 1929, most likely in Cairo. Both his parents were Palestinians. "Yasser" was a family nickname.

Because Arafat has no designated successor, and has been such an overwhelming figure in his influence in the Mideast, both the Palestinians and the Israelis have been making contingency plans in the event of Arafat's death.

Both are worried about the possibility of riots and other escalations of violence, and both are looking ahead to the question of who would be the new leader or leaders, and the impact of that change on the Mideast peace process.

All Israel is watching the Arafat situation closely, reports CBS News Correspondent Robert Berger.

Since Israel opposes a funeral for Arafat in Ramallah, the feeling there has been that it will be in the Gaza Strip. Since Gaza would not be a pleasant place for foreign diplomats, there might be a ceremony in Jordan or Cairo, reports Berger. The problem is that Islamic law requires burial within 24 hours of death.

Abington told CBS News he was unsure who, if anyone, might represent the U.S. at Arafat's funeral. There has been no decision in Washington whether the Bush administration would send someone.

Palestinians have been making contingency plans in the event of Arafat's death.

Qureia has assumed some emergency financial and administrative powers. Abbas has chaired a series of meetings of the PLO executive committee. But neither politician has much grass-roots support among Palestinians or important militant groups.

Suha Arafat, who has been married to him for 13 years and is the mother of his daughter, seems to have aligned herself with hard-liners who apparently seek to lead in a post-Arafat era, though some Palestinian officials said her motives are more financial.

According to a senior official in Arafat's office, she has received monthly payments of $100,000 from Palestinian coffers and is widely believed to control vast funds collected by the PLO.

This year, French prosecutors launched a money-laundering investigation into transfers of $11.4 million into her accounts. She has refused to talk to reporters about Palestinian finances. Mrs. Arafat, 41, lives in Paris and has not been to the West Bank since the latest round of Palestinian violence began in 2000. That's also the last time she saw her husband before he fell ill.

Abington, in East Jerusalem, calls all the stories about Arafat himself having hundreds of millions of dollars in secret accounts "an urban myth." He said all these stories come from an old International Monetary Fund report but the situation has been cleaned up. Abington said now all monies are under the control of Salim Fayyed, the Palestinian Finance Minister, and it is all transparent through the Palestine Investment Fund and audited yearly by PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

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