Israel PM Olmert to have prostate cancer surgery

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JERUSALEM, Oct 29 (Reuters) Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced today he has prostate cancer that requires minor surgery in the coming months but said he was fit to govern as he works toward peace talks with the Palestinians.

The 62-year-old premier told a hastily convened news conference that doctors discovered a ''microscopic'' growth in his prostate gland during an annual check-up last week.

''There is nothing in the growth that is life-threatening,'' said Olmert, a keen runner and fitness fanatic who looked calm and relaxed during his brief announcement. ''The surgical procedure itself is planned to take place in the coming months.

''I will be fit and fully up to my duties before the procedure and within a few hours of its conclusion.'' A medical expert appearing alongside the prime minister said survival rates for the type of growth involved were extremely high and the operation would require only local anaesthetic.

''This is a curable disease without a pressing need for treatment,'' Kobi Ramon told the news conference.

Olmert said: ''The Israeli public have the right to know.'' When his predecessor Ariel Sharon was felled by a stroke early last year, there was criticism of the way Sharon had kept previous health problems a secret from voters.

PALESTINIAN TALKS Olmert, who has clung to office in the face of massive criticism of his conduct of last year's war in Lebanon and repeated allegations of corruption, is now engaged in US-backed talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said: ''We wish him a speedy recovery and hope to continue working with him to achieve the two-state solution and end the Israeli occupation.'' Olmert and Abbas say they are urgently seeking a common position on establishing a Palestinian state before a peace conference to be held late this year in the United States.

Asked whether treatment would affect Olmert's ability to attend the meeting pencilled in for Annapolis, Maryland, in late November or early December, Ramon said the prime minister would not be able to fly abroad for three weeks after the surgery.

Olmert faces opposition within his own coalition to making territorial and other concessions to the Palestinians and many observers questions whether he has the political capital to implement any settlement that might be negotiated.

Washington appears keen to bolster Olmert, partly out of concern that if he were forced out an Israeli election would probably derail any chance of a deal on Palestinian statehood before President George W Bush leaves office in January 2009.

The death toll and inconclusive outcome of the war against Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas saw Olmert's ratings plunge to single digits. He was heavily criticised by an inquiry that has yet to give its final conclusions. But he refused to resign.

A lawyer and former mayor of Jerusalem, he is also fighting a series of police investigations into allegations of corruption while he was in previous posts. He denies all wrongdoing.

''I am indestructible,'' he was quoted as saying in April.

Reuters SKB RN1722

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