Palestinian leader’s health scares spark succession talk

Abbas, a heavy smoker with long-standing heart problems who turns 83 next week, insists he is fine. (AP)
Updated 22 March 2018
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Palestinian leader’s health scares spark succession talk

RAMALLAH, West Bank: A series of recent health scares have raised new concerns about octogenarian President Mahmoud Abbas, reviving anxiety about a potentially chaotic, and even bloody, succession battle that is bound to further weaken the Palestinian cause.
In the latest sign of Abbas’ health troubles, officials and medical sources say a cardiologist has moved into the presidential compound in Ramallah to monitor the longtime leader.
The move follows a mysterious hospital visit in the US after Abbas appeared weak in an address to the UN Security Council.
Abbas, a heavy smoker with long-standing heart problems who turns 83 next week, insists he is fine. 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.
The topic of succession has been taboo in Palestinian official circles since Abbas took office 14 years ago. 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, refusing to designate a successor while a political split with rival Hamas prevented new elections.
Abbas has a long history of health issues, ranging from his heart troubles to a bout with prostate cancer a decade ago. Last summer, he underwent a health checkup at a Ramallah hospital and separately, dispelled rumors he had suffered a stroke. Two years ago, he underwent an emergency heart procedure after suffering exhaustion and chest pains. He suffers from arterial plaque and has had stents implanted.
Concerns deepened after Abbas’ Feb. 20 appearance before the UN Security Council, where he appeared to struggle for breath at times.
After the speech, he traveled to Baltimore for a series of tests at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Feeling fatigued, Abbas then decided to return to the West Bank rather than continue on to Venezuela, as initially planned, according to three Abbas aides who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are under strict orders not to discuss his health.
It was rare for the globetrotting Abbas to cancel a planned trip.
Abbas said after his return that the medical tests conducted in the US yielded “positive and reassuring” results, but did not elaborate.
A Palestinian official and two medical sources said a heart specialist is now present at the presidential compound whenever Abbas is there. Abbas’ regular physician visits the compound every day as well.
The medical sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss Abbas’ health. One said he requires medication and close attention.


Car bomb blast kills five in Iraq’s Tikrit — police, medics

Updated 3 min 42 sec ago
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Car bomb blast kills five in Iraq’s Tikrit — police, medics

TIKRIT, Iraq: A car bomb blast killed at least five people and wounded 16 others in the Iraqi city of Tikrit on Sunday, police and medical sources said.
The blast set nearly a dozen vehicles on fire, the police sources said. Security forces have closed most of the city streets and deployed in case of any other incidents.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the explosion. Such attacks have been rare in Tikrit, about 100 miles north of Baghdad, since Daesh were defeated in Iraq in 2017.
Daesh militants have switched from controlling territory to insurgency tactics such as bombings and attacks on security forces since their military defeat.
Analysts and security sources warn these attacks are likely to increase in traditional Sunni militant strongholds in the north and west of the country, although security in Baghdad has improved.
Iraq's government said this week that about 2,000 Iraqi Daesh fighters based across the border in eastern Syria were seeking to come back to Iraq, and that security forces were preparing to prevent militant incursions.