FILE PHOTO - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas waves in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank

By Ali Sawafta

RAMALLAH (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, hospitalized three times in the last week, will remain in hospital at least one more night, a senior Palestinian official said on Monday, though little information was given about the veteran leader’s condition.

The hospital visits by Abbas, 82, have raised inevitable questions about his health and the future of the Palestinian leadership.

Abbas underwent minor ear surgery last Tuesday but went back into al-Istishari Hospital in Ramallah briefly overnight on Saturday/Sunday. He was then rushed back later that day, for what doctors described only as “medical tests”.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said he spent an hour with Abbas on Monday and that, “the president is in good health. He’s recovering.”

“I hope that he will be released from the hospital in the next two days,” Erekat told Reuters.

But Erekat’s timeline was similar to what he had offered a day earlier, when Dr. Saed al-Sarahneh, medical director of the hospital, said that Abbas had come back “for medical tests” after the surgery on Tuesday.

Since then, no Palestinian medical official has gone further than Sarahneh’s statement that: “All the tests are normal and his medical condition is reassuring.”

Reports on Abbas’ treatment have been conflicting.

One Palestinian official in Ramallah said on Sunday there had been complications following the ear surgery and that Abbas was running a fever. The same day a source at al-Istishari hospital said his condition was unrelated to the ear operation and that he had being given antibiotics to treat an inflammation in the chest.

The official Palestinian news agency Wafa put out a report on Monday afternoon giving no details of Abbas’ health. It said only that Abbas had received a phone call from the secretary of the Arab League who “checked on the president’s health and wished him good health and strength.”

Abbas, a heavy smoker, was hospitalised in the United States for medical checks in February during a trip to address the U.N. Security Council.

The Western-backed leader became Palestinian president after the death in 2004 of his predecessor, Yasser Arafat. He pursued U.S.-led peace talks with Israel but the negotiations broke down in 2014.

Abbas’s democratic mandate expired eight years ago – there has been no presidential election since 2005 and the term of office is only five years. His authority is essentially limited to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, with the Islamist militant group Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip.

Abbas has no formal deputy in the Palestinian Authority. In theory, the speaker of parliament would take over as president on an interim basis were Abbas to die in office. But the parliamentary speaker’s role is held by a Hamas representative, and Fatah is likely to dispute the constitutional legitimacy of him taking over.

In 2016, Abbas established the Palestinian Constitutional Court, the head of which could take charge until an election is held.

Abbas is also chairman of the executive committee of the PLO, a position to which he was re-elected unopposed on May 4.

(Reporting by Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi, Editing by William Maclean)

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