Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas remained in the hospital for a third day Tuesday with pneumonia, with a hospital spokeswoman saying there was as yet no timeframe for his discharge.
Pictures and video of 83-year-old Abbas walking around the hospital and reading a newspaper were published late Monday, in an apparent attempt to calm rumors that his condition was more serious than reported. Independent media outlets were banned from entering the hospital.
Hadashot News pointed out that the newspaper Abbas was pictured reading prominently carried a large cartoon on its back page, facing the camera, showing an Israeli soldier taking a baby’s milk away from her and ramming poison down her throat instead. “It is not clear” whether the choice of newspaper page was deliberate, the TV report said.
The cartoon referred to reports — since cast into question — that 8-month-old Layla Ghandour died from inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops during violent protests on the Gaza border with Israel last week.
כולם פרסמו את התמונות של אבו מאזן מתאושש בבית החולים עם בניו טארק ויאסר. התמקדו בחלוק היפה ובחיוכים שפיזר לכל עבר במטרה להרגיע את השטח. המנהיג המתון עדיין כאן. עכשיו תעשו זום על הקריקטורה בעיתון שהוא מחזיק. חייל ישראלי מחליף את בקבוק החלב ברעל לתינוקת הפלסטינית שמתה בעזה.
Last Monday, Ashraf Al-Qidra, spokesman for Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry, posted a picture of Layla on Facebook and attributed her death to the tear gas. The story was picked up by media all over the world.
The next day, however, a Gazan doctor told The Associated Press that Ghandour had a preexisting medical condition and that he did not believe her death was caused by the gas. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to disclose medical information to the media.
Al-Qidra backtracked last Wednesday and told The Times of Israel that the cause of the baby’s death was not definitively known and was being investigated. He said he was awaiting the results of an autopsy. (On Tuesday, he told The Times of Israel he was still awaiting the results.)
Then last Thursday, a New York Times report said the family acknowledged the baby was not healthy. “The Ghandour family acknowledged that Layla suffered from patent ductus arteriosus, a congenital heart disease commonly described as a hole in the heart,” that report said.
An Israeli army spokesperson said Tuesday that “contrary to the unequivocal Palestinian announcement, we have evidence that undermines the credibility of the Palestinian Ministry of Health’s announcement regarding the death of the baby.”
Palestinian leaders urge calm over Abbas health
“He is doing fine but still needs to take care,” the spokeswoman for the Istishari Arab Hospital near Ramallah in the West Bank told AFP on Abbas’ condition. “Until now there is no news about a timeframe for when he might leave.”
Ahmad Tibi, an Arab Israeli Knesset member, said on Twitter he had visited Abbas late Monday.
“He suffers from pneumonia and is treated with antibiotics,” said Tibi, who is also a doctor, adding that he was expected to spend “several more days” in the hospital.
Abbas was admitted to hospital Sunday with a high fever. Last week, he underwent what was called minor ear surgery.
Top aide Saeb Erekat said Abbas was in “very good health” after spending several hours visiting the Palestinian leader and said he should be released within days. Erekat said Abbas was taking antibiotics and responding well to his treatment.
Speaking Tuesday to reporters at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad Malki warned against blowing Abbas’s malady out of proportion.
“It’s obvious that all of us as humans might have certain health setbacks … President Abbas is not really immune from that,” he said. “Of course we were concerned about his health as anyone should be but you know we should not really take it out of proportion when it comes to his health.”
It was the latest health scare for the 83-year-old, who has had health problems in the past but never designated a deputy or successor.
His sudden hospitalization has revived anxiety over a potentially chaotic or even bloody succession battle that could further weaken the Palestinian cause.