RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — The 81-year-old Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, was hospitalized and ordered to undergo a heart test on Thursday after suffering exhaustion and chest pains, officials said.
The health scare drew attention to the chaotic leadership situation in the Palestinian territories — which have no succession plan for the aging leader and which are torn between two rival governments.
A Palestinian official close to Abbas said the leader, who has a history of health issues, was rushed to the hospital after feeling unwell at his Ramallah office.
A hospital official said Abbas was resting and talking to guests and would later undergo a cardiac catheterization, a procedure in which a tube is inserted into a blood vessel leading to the heart.
The procedure is used to diagnose heart problems or to allow for procedures to open blocked arteries. There was no word on when the procedure was to take place.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the president's condition with the media.
"The president is doing a regular checkup in the hospital. The doctors said he is totally normal," said Nabil Abu Rdeneh, Abbas' spokesman, in a statement.
Abbas was elected president in 2005 for what was supposed to be a four-year term. But in 2007 the rival Hamas militant group seized control of the Gaza Strip, and Abbas has remained in power since then.
The Palestinians are now divided between two governments, Abbas' Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Hamas government in Gaza. Attempts at reconciliation have repeatedly failed, and this week the Palestinians called off plans to hold municipal elections in the two territories.
Abbas, who is a heavy smoker and is overweight, was treated years ago with prostate cancer and has had a stent inserted to treat artery blockage.
He also is deeply unpopular with the Palestinian public, which is frustrated over years of failed peace efforts with Israel. Over the past week, he has come under heavy criticism at home for attending the funeral of the late Israeli president, Shimon Peres.
Over the years, Abbas has ignored calls to appoint a successor, setting the stage for a bitter power struggle if he is incapacitated. A long list of senior officials and security chiefs would likely covet the job, though there is no clear front-runner. Perhaps the most popular potential successor, Marwan Barghouti, is serving multiple life sentences in an Israeli prison for his role in deadly attacks on Israelis. Hamas would also likely demand a say in choosing a new leader.
Even choosing a caretaker leader ahead of future elections will be a difficult task. 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 nearly a decade, Dweik would not be eligible to lead the Palestinians.