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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Palestinian leader Abbas recovering in hospital, says aide

Abbas was diagnosed with pneumonia and is responding to treatment 

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas surrounded by his sons and his doctors talking a walk at the hospital in Ramallah. Thaer Ghanaim / EPA
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas surrounded by his sons and his doctors talking a walk at the hospital in Ramallah. Thaer Ghanaim / EPA

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is alert and making a swift recovery after being taken to hospital with a fever over the weekend and should be released within days, an aide and a doctor said.

Saeb Erekat said Mr Abbas is in "very good health" after spending several hours visiting the Palestinian leader in a Ramallah hospital on Monday.

"He's recovering and doctors expect him to leave the hospital within the coming two days," Mr Erekat said.

Dr Said Sarahneh, the medical director of Ramallah's Istishari Hospital, said President Abbas had been diagnosed with pneumonia and responded to treatment quickly.

Later on Monday, Mr Abbas's office released a photo and brief video clip showing him walking in the hospital hallway, dressed in a blue bathrobe and flanked by aides. Another photo showed him sitting and reading a newspaper.

The official Wafa news agency said President Abbas received phone calls from the Egyptian president and intelligence chief as well as the Qatari foreign minister and secretary general of the Arab League.

It was the latest health scare for the 83-year-old, who has a history of health problems but has never designated a deputy or successor. His sudden hospitalisation has revived anxiety over a potentially chaotic or even bloody succession battle that could further weaken the Palestinian cause.

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Mr Abbas was taken to hospital on Sunday with a fever, just days after undergoing ear surgery. Palestinian officials on Sunday said he had pneumonia and was on a respirator, receiving antibiotics intravenously. They said he was conscious and lucid.

Mr Erekat said the Palestinian leader was taking antibiotics and responding well to his treatment. He said they discussed important issues, including the opening of a new Paraguayan Embassy in Jerusalem, which Mr Abbas condemned, and Palestinian plans to submit a new complaint against Israel with the International Criminal Court on Tuesday.

President Abbas, who is a heavy smoker and overweight, has a long history of health issues, ranging from heart trouble to a bout with prostate cancer a decade ago. Two years ago, he underwent an emergency heart procedure after suffering exhaustion and chest pains.

Mahmoud Abbas reading the newspaper, with both sons next to him as he recovers at a hospital in Ramallah. Thaer Ghanaim / EPA
Mahmoud Abbas reading the newspaper, with both sons next to him as he recovers at a hospital in Ramallah. Thaer Ghanaim / EPA

More recently, a cardiologist moved into the presidential compound in Ramallah to monitor the longtime leader after a mysterious hospital visit in the United States, following Mr Abbas' address to the United Nations Security Council, in which he appeared weak.

President Abbas, who insists he is fine, has refused to designate a successor. But after more than a decade of avoiding discussion of the post-Abbas era, Palestinian officials acknowledge that they are concerned, and potential successors are quietly jockeying for position. Mr Erekat declined to discuss the matter on Monday.

Abbas took over as a caretaker leader following the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 2004, and was elected for what was supposed to be a five-year term the following year.

He has remained in firm control since then, governing parts of the West Bank, while a political split with rival Hamas — the Palestinian militant group that in 2007 seized the Gaza Strip — has prevented new elections.

Uncertainty shrouds the post-Abbas future. Under Palestinian law, the parliament speaker is supposed to take over if the president is incapacitated or dies. But the current speaker, Aziz Dweik, is a member of Hamas. President Abbas' Fatah party has argued that since parliament has not functioned in more than a decade, Dweik would not be eligible to lead the Palestinians.

A number of top officials in Mr Abbas' Fatah movement head the list of potential successors.

Jibril Rajoub, a former security chief, and Mahmoud Aloul, a veteran Fatah leader, are both members of the party's decision-making Central Committee.

President Abbas' current security chief, Majed Farraj, is another strong contender, with good behind-the-scenes working relations with both Israel and the US.

Marwan Barghouti, a former Palestinian uprising leader serving multiple life sentences in an Israeli prison, tops public opinion polls. But his incarceration would pose a strong obstacle to him taking office. Israel has ruled out releasing him.

Mohammed Dahlan, an exiled rival of Mr Abbas also enjoys some support, but the local leadership opposes him.

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