Palestinian leader’s hospital stay extended without explanation

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting on issues in the Middle East, at United Nations headquarters, Feb. 20, 2018 in New York City.


RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ doctor said Sunday that the 83-year-old will be staying another day in the hospital, abruptly reversing a previous announcement that he would be discharged and adding to the uncertainty surrounding the Palestinian leader’s health.

Abbas was hospitalized last week with a fever, just days after undergoing ear surgery. Palestinian officials said he had pneumonia and was on a respirator, receiving antibiotics intravenously. Abbas allies insisted he was in good health, but day after day he remained hospitalized.

On Sunday, his doctor, Yasser Abu Safiyeh said that Abbas would be discharged later in the day after being kept a few extra days in hospital as a precaution “to avoid any setback that could be caused by any infection.” A stage was set up, and the media was summoned to record his release. Then, shortly after, Abu Safiyeh said Abbas’ release had been postponed for another day. No explanation was given.

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. 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. That visit followed Abbas’ address to the U.N. Security Council, in which he appeared weak.

Abbas has no deputy. His latest health scare and sudden hospitalization revived anxiety over a potentially chaotic or even bloody succession battle. 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.

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 office since then, governing parts of the West Bank. A political split with Hamas – the Palestinian militant group that seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 – has prevented new elections.

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