FILE - In this Jan. 31, 2018 file photo, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, in the West Bank town of Ramallah. A Palestinian official said Sunday, May 20, 2018, that the 83-year-old Abbas has been hospitalized with fever. Abbas, a heavy smoker, has a long history of health issues. He has not designated a successor. (Atef Safadi/Pool Photo via AP, File)

Abbas, 83-year-old Palestinian leader, still in hospital

May 21, 2018 - 4:33 am

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Palestinian president's condition has seen a "clear improvement" after he was taken to hospital with a fever, an Arab lawmaker in Israel's parliament with close ties to Mahmoud Abbas said on Monday.

Abbas was hospitalized on Sunday with a fever, just days after undergoing ear surgery. The 83-year-old leader has endured a series of recent health scares which have revived anxiety over a potentially chaotic, and even bloody, succession battle that could further weaken the Palestinian cause.

Ahmad Tibi, the lawmaker close to Abbas, told Israeli Army Radio that Abbas could be discharged as early as Tuesday. He did not elaborate on Abbas' condition nor say why he thought Abbas was expected to be released.

Palestinian officials on Sunday had said that Abbas has pneumonia and was on a respirator, receiving antibiotics intravenously. They said he was conscious and lucid.

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, following Abbas' address to the United Nations Security Council in which he appeared weak.

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.

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. 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 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.

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

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.

Mohammed Dahlan, an exiled rival of Abbas who now lives in the United Arab Emirates, also enjoys some support, but the local leadership opposes him.

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