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Palestine: PA's Mahmoud Abbas flies to Germany for 'medical tests'

The Palestinian Authority president travels to Germany every year for check-ups on a long-term intestinal problem, Middle East Eye has learned
Mahmoud Abbas, a heavy smoker, was hospitalised with pneumonia in 2018 (AFP)

Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas left the occupied West Bank for Germany on Monday for "routine medical tests" and to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel, Palestinian sources said.

Abbas travels to Germany every year for medical checks on a long-term intestinal problem, a source close to the Palestinian Authority (PA) told Middle East Eye.

He is under extra strain this year, they added, because of the election and conflict inside Fatah, the political movement he leads.

Another Palestinian source told MEE that the trip was "nothing more than routine checks".

Months before the first PA elections in 15 years, the 86-year-old left the presidential compound in Ramallah in the West Bank via helicopter for Jordan, a source told AFP.

He was to fly to Germany before returning on Thursday, the source added, requesting anonymity pending an official announcement.

Palestinian legislative elections are scheduled for 22 May, with a presidential vote set for 31 July.

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Abbas, who was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in the last vote in 2005 following the death of Yasser Arafat, has not yet declared whether he intends to run again. 

His Fatah movement, which controls the West Bank, has submitted a list of candidates for the legislative polls. 

Abbas, a heavy smoker, was hospitalised with pneumonia in 2018, fuelling speculation about a possible succession plan. 

His latest visit comes with Abbas and Fatah facing mounting political pressures. 

In the legislative polls, Fatah is facing challenges from dissident factions including the Freedom list, led by a nephew of the late Arafat, Nasser al-Kidwa. 

Freedom has been endorsed by Marwan Barghouti, who is serving multiple life sentences in Israel for allegedly organising deadly attacks during the second Palestinian intifada from 2000-05.

Abbas's former Gaza security chief, Mohammed Dahlan, who is currently in exile in Abu Dhabi, is also backing a list of challengers.

Former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad, an ex-World Bank official with a track record of fighting corruption, is supporting his own group.  

Elections in the balance

Legislative elections are slated to take place on 22 May, but that date has come into question, as two members of the Palestine Liberation Organisation's (PLO) executive committee announced last week that the elections cannot take place without the inclusion of Palestinians living in occupied East Jerusalem.

Israel has repeatedly denied attempts to hold such elections in Jerusalem, which it considers to be Israeli territory despite the contested nature of the city.

"There will be no elections without Jerusalem," said Azzam al-Ahmad, who is also a member of the ruling Fatah central committee, during an interview with Palestine TV on Monday. "It is a key partner in the democratic process."

Ahmad said that Hamas - Fatah's political rival and the de facto ruling party in the besieged Gaza Strip - agreed that elections should not be held without Jerusalem residents. 

Such postponement has been commonplace under Abbas's leadership. While Abbas's term officially expired in June 2009, no presidential elections have been organised by the PA in 16 years.

It is unclear if the same demands of a Jerusalem vote will cause delays to the presidential elections in late July.