Chinese Vice-President Li Yuanchao (L) gives a present to Zambia's President Michael Sata (R)
Chinese Vice-President Li Yuanchao (L) gives a present to Zambia's President Michael Sata (R) during a state visit on June 19, 2014 in Lusaka. Photo by AFP
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Oskar Lorenz, Wikimedia Commons
Michael Sata, Zambia's 5th president (2011-present). Photo by Oskar Lorenz, Wikimedia Commons

Zambian president Michael Sata is "not in critical condition," say Israeli sources, adding that he may even meet with outgoing Israeli president Shimon Peres later this week. "He was at Sheba Medical Center until Thursday when he left that hospital," Haaretz was told.

With Zambian president Michael Sata flying below the radar, having disappeared some ten days ago, the Zambian rumor mill – and opposition – have been working overtime. While the government continues to insist that Sata is in Israel for a working vacation and will stay as long as he feels like it, the opposition claims he's profoundly ill, even possibly dying, and was flown to Israel for medical treatment.

However, Israeli sources confirmed Monday that his condition is "not critical."

The Israeli Foreign Ministry confirmed Monday that Sata is in Israel for a working visit, but declined to elaborate.

Meanwhile, the country's vice president, Guy Scott, has been robustly defending his chief's right to privacy – though even the government has indicated the Israeli visit has a medical aspect. Scott meanwhile has declined to suggest when the president might return, other than to indicate that Sata will come back when he's ready to.

Earlier Monday, the Zambian publication "The Post Online" quoted the fairly newly-minted governor of the Southern Provice, Daniel Munkombwe, accusing the opposition UPND party of being "un-Zambian" and "un-African" for speculating over Sata's health – let alone over anticipation of his demise, "so that the country can hold a presidential by-election."

On Friday, Zambian vice president Guy Scott attacked the opposition for being in "campaign mode" - making hay, as it were, in Sata's absence. Meanwhile, although Sata had usually appointed Zambian Finance Minister Alexander Chikwanda as acting president, apparently the country is being run in Sata's absence not by the veep or Chikwanda, but by Justice Minister Wynter Kabimba, the secretary general of the Patriotic Front.

Zambia news website Lusakatimes.com reported Monday on a muddle over the source of Kabimba's authority, which had been announced by the acting government spokesperson, Mwansa Kapeya, and suggests that if Kabimba hasn't been formally empowered by a letter from Sata, his actions could be "treasonable".

Sata, Zambia's fifth president, is the leader of the Patriotic Front, which he formed in 2001 after serving as a minister under former president Frederick Chiluba. Sata had lost his presidential races to Levy Mwanawasa in 2006 and then to Rupiah Banda in 2010, but finally prevailed after ten years in opposition, and won in September 2011.

Rumors have been circulating about the state of his health for more than a year, culminating in the whisper that he was flown to Israel last Friday in a state of unconsciousness. The Zambian government insisted that he had working meetings with Israeli president Shimon Peres, but Peres wasn't even in the country at the time – he was in the United States.

The last time Sata was seen in public, a source in Lusaka told Haaretz, was some two weeks ago, when he appeared at a dinner for the vice president of China. He looked thin and frail at the supper, the Zambian Watchdog reported.

Charles Milupi, leader of the Alliance for Democracy and Development, told the Zambian Post on Monday that Zambians are sympathetic to the president's state of health – which had been precarious even before his election in 2011 - and that politicizing it would be wrong. But in the same breath, the Post reported, Milupi is unhappy about Lusaka's obfuscations: "We require our government to be open... The President does not belong to the PF; he belongs to the whole country," the Post quoted him as saying.

Zambia has no representation in Israel, nor is Israel represented in Zambia.

With reporting by Barak Ravid and Ronny Linder-Ganz.