|Abbas planned to return to the West Bank today.|
JERUSALEM - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas underwent a heart procedure in Jordan yesterday to check for blood vessel blockages, but no problems were found and he was promptly discharged from the hospital.
Abbas planned to return to the West Bank today and quickly resume work. But the treatment drew attention to the Palestinian leader's delicate health history, and the Palestinians' lack of a succession plan at a sensitive time of peace efforts with Israel.
In Amman, Abbas's physician, Dr. Abdullah al-Bashir, said he performed the angiogram as part of a routine annual medical checkup.
In an angiogram, doctors insert a catheter into a blood vessel, thread it into the heart and inject a dye to check the heart and look for any blockages. If blockages are found, a balloon is inflated to open up the artery, but Bashir said that wasn't necessary.
"In order to make sure that everything is normal, we did a catheterization and not ballooning," he said. He said Abbas left the hospital and would return to the West Bank today.
Saeb Erekat, a top aide to Abbas, said he spoke to the Palestinian leader yesterday afternoon, and he was "doing very very well. He's in very high spirits. He even joked to me."
He said Abbas planned to resume his schedule immediately, including meetings with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sometime next week.
With US backing, Abbas and Olmert hope to negotiate a final peace agreement by the end of the year. Negotiating teams meet regularly, and the two leaders meet every few weeks to assess progress.
Abbas traveled to Washington last week hoping to get a boost for his efforts, but returned pessimistic about achieving any deal with Israel by the December target.
Abbas's medical procedure added even more uncertainty to the peace process. Though aides said he was in good health, it raised new questions about his condition. Abbas was treated for prostate cancer years ago in the United States, and underwent another angiogram in 2005 after he complained about fatigue.
Dr. Stephen Siegel, a cardiologist at New York University School of Medicine, said angiograms are not normally performed during routine checkups in the United States.
Siegel, who is not involved in Abbas's treatment, said doctors usually order the procedure only when there is an indication of blockage in the arteries, such as chest pain. However, he said doctors often go "above and beyond" standard treatments when caring for world leaders and other VIPs.
At the time of his 2005 angiogram, Abbas said he hoped to name a vice president who could succeed him if he were incapacitated. But he never followed through, in part because the rival Hamas militant group swept parliamentary elections soon after.
Hamas subsequently seized control of the Gaza Strip from Abbas's forces, leaving the Palestinians with two rival governments.
Under Palestinian law, the parliament speaker is supposed to serve as a caretaker president if a sitting president is incapacitated, until new elections are held.
But Abbas's Fatah party is unlikely to cede control to the current speaker, Aziz Duaik, who is a member of Hamas, or call new elections in the current environment.
Further complicating matters, Duaik has been imprisoned by Israel, which considers Hamas a terrorist group. Abbas's likely successor in Fatah, Marwan Barghouti, also is in prison, serving five life terms for involvement in deadly attacks on Israelis.
Olmert's office said yesterday that the Israeli leader will face police questioning today. It was not known which of several alleged corruption cases was to be covered.
In fighting yesterday, Israeli air strikes killed two Palestinians, including a Hamas gunman who Israel said was involved in the capture of an Israeli soldier two years ago. Palestinian medical officials identified the second dead man as a 62-year-old civilian.
The deaths threaten to disrupt Egyptian efforts to broker a cease-fire in Gaza. Hamas has proposed a six-month truce, and 12 smaller Palestinian groups accepted the deal in principle on Wednesday.
Since Hamas took control of Gaza last June, Israel and Egypt have sealed the coastal strip's borders. causing widespread shortages of fuel, power and basic goods in the area.
In a new report, a senior UN official in Gaza, John Ging, said the humanitarian situation there has become "shocking and shameful."
The lack of fuel has left Gaza's streets empty of cars, limited ambulance service, and crippled public services such as garbage delivery, while travel restrictions have "created an acute sense of imprisonment."