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Israel's PM To Have Heart Surgery

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will undergo a procedure in coming weeks to repair a small hole in his heart, his doctors said Monday.

Dr. Chaim Lotem said the hole, measuring 1 to 2 millimeters, is a minor birth defect found in 15 to 25 percent of the general population. He said doctors plan to insert a catheter through Sharon's esophagus and insert an "umbrella-like" device that will seal the hole.

The hole was detected during testing following the Jan. 18 stroke. Doctors conclude the blood clot that caused the stroke got lodged in the hole, restricting the flow of blood to his brain. Sharon is now taking Clexin, a blood-thinning medication, twice a day until he undergoes the heart procedure. Lotem said.

The heart condition was discovered following the stroke. Doctors have said Sharon suffered no lasting damage, and he has resumed his full work load. But the health scare has raised concerns about the 77-year-old leader's ability to work as he runs for a third term.

As Israelis and other Jews began observing the first day of Hanukkah, Israel's 77-year-old leader had some surprising advice: watch your weight and don't eat all those holiday goodies. CBS News correspondent Robert Berger reports Sharon's weight and legendary big appetite have been the talk of the town since the mild stroke.

Also Monday, a Palestinian court decided that the ruling Fatah Party can still submit a single list for Jan. 25 elections, ending a split that threatened to hand victory to the Islamic Hamas.

The young guard of Fatah broke off from the party and submitted its own list of candidates to compete with the party's old guard. However, the two sides reconciled but weren't sure if there was enough time to re-join forces.

Meanwhile, Israel on Monday said it will build more than 200 new homes in Jewish West Bank settlements — a blow to peace efforts despite word that Sharon's new party plans a major push for Palestinian statehood if it wins upcoming elections.

Sharon has made no secret of his plans to strengthen the big settlement blocs near Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, effectively annexing them to Israel, reports Berger.

In a separate sign of accommodation, Israeli officials said they will likely permit east Jerusalem's Palestinians to vote in next month's Palestinian election. Israel had recently threatened to bar east Jerusalem residents from voting.

The latest settlement construction was revealed in newspaper ads published Monday seeking bids from building contractors, and would violate Israel's commitments under the U.S.-backed "road map" peace plan.

The plans include a total of 228 housing units in the settlements of Beitar Illit and Efrat. Both communities are located just outside Jerusalem.

The road map calls for a freeze on all settlement construction in the West Bank, which the Palestinians claim as part of a future independent state. Since accepting the plan in June 2003, Israel has continued to expand settlements. The Palestinians also have not carried out their road map obligation to disarm militant groups.

Sharon spokesman Raanan Gissin said plans for the latest construction began more than five years ago and would take place in existing communities. He also noted that the construction would be in settlements that Israel plans to retain after a final peace settlement with the Palestinians.

"These are the large settlement blocs, they will be strengthened," he said.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat condemned the settlement expansion and urged the U.S. to intervene. U.S. Embassy spokesmen in Israel were not immediately available for comment.

The settlement plans came even as Sharon's new political party, Kadima, signaled it is ready to hand over West Bank territory to the Palestinians and work toward an independent Palestinian state after March elections. Opinion polls forecast a strong victory by Sharon's bloc in the March 28 vote.

Sharon left the hard-line Likud Party last month to form Kadima, saying he would have more freedom to negotiate a peace deal. Many Likud members remain furious with Sharon following his withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in September.

A draft of Kadima's election platform published Monday calls for conceding more land to the Palestinians as part of peace talks culminating in a Palestinian state. The talks would be based on the road map, which endorses a Palestinian state but says its borders must be reached through negotiations.

"The basic tenet of the peace process is two national states," says the platform. Party spokesman Lior Chorev said the draft, detailed in the Maariv daily, was accurate and said the plan is expected to be approved by next week.

With the Gaza withdrawal, Sharon became the first Israeli leader to turn over captured territory to the Palestinians. Since leaving the Likud, the former patron of the settlement movement has made it clear that giving up more land — including parts of the biblical Land of Israel in the West Bank — are necessary to maintain a Jewish majority in Israel. More than 2 million Palestinians live in the West Bank.

"Deciding between the wish to allow any Jew to live anywhere in the Land of Israel and the existence of the state of Israel as the national Jewish home, requires giving up part of the Land of Israel," reads the Kadima platform.

Political commentator Hanan Crystal said the platform held no major surprises, but cemented Kadima's place as a "pragmatic, centrist party."

Despite such pragmatism, the platform would fall short of Palestinian claims to all of Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem — territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.

The platform rules out any withdrawal from Jerusalem, which Israel claims as its eternal capital. Sharon has also said Israel should retain major settlement blocs in the West Bank under a final peace deal.

In a separate development, Israeli officials said the government may drop its opposition to allowing Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem vote in next month's Palestinian elections.

Israel threatened last week to bar voting in east Jerusalem since the Islamic group Hamas is participating. The warning infuriated the Palestinians.

Control of Jerusalem is one of the central disputes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. An Israeli official said the government is now considering ways to allow the thousands of Palestinians living in east Jerusalem to vote, without infringing on Israel's sovereignty over the city.

The plan would probably allow some Palestinians to vote in post offices. Others would vote in outlying neighborhoods. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan hasn't been approved yet.

Erekat, the Palestinian negotiator, welcomed the comments, but said the Palestinian Authority has not received formal word of the plan.

Israel has allowed east Jerusalem Arabs to participate in past Palestinian elections, letting small numbers vote at post offices and allowing others to leave the city to cast ballots.

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