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Date posted: December 02, 2005
By Harvey Morris

Ramallah - Palestinian reformists in the ruling Fatah movement said on Wednesday they would consider running on a rival ticket in Decembers general elections if the so-called Old Guard tried to steal party primaries being held this week.

Young Guard reformists made sweeping gains in West Bank primaries this week before voting was halted in Gaza when Fatah gunmen stormed polling stations and set fire to ballot boxes, claiming fraud.

In Ramallah, the largest number of votes went to Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah militia leader serving multiple life sentences in an Israeli jail for murder. Mr Barghouti is considered the leader of the Young Guard.

Some veteran Fatah officials associated with the era of the late Yasser Arafat picked up only a few hundred votes in the grassroots poll of thousands of party activists and supporters.

Political analysts said the choice of reformists not tainted by the corruption that surrounded Arafats rule would boost Fatahs chances in a parliamentary election where it faces a strong challenge from Hamas, the militant Islamic organisation.

Members of the Young Guard, however, said they feared that officials who had dominated the party since they returned from exile with Arafat a decade ago would attempt to secure places on the Fatah list. There is a group that believes it has the right to continue nominating itself for any jobs, said Qadoura Fares, a Fatah parliamentarian who is close to Mr Barghouti. After the primaries, they will have a chance to interfere by putting the list to the Fatah central committee, he said. It will be a tough discussion. The final list will be determined by a committee of wisemen under the chairmanship of Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority president.

It will have the authority to substitute names from among those who failed to secure a high place in the primaries, theoretically giving the Old Guard the final say on who will run inthe election.

Some members of the Young Guard said they would run under an alternative name, such as the al-Aqsa or Jerusalem list, if they were squeezed out of the official Fatah list.

Israeli officials have dismissed speculation of an early release for Mr Barghouti, who was jailed for his involvement in the shooting of four Israelis and a Greek priest during the Palestinian uprising.

Associates of Mr Barghouti said he was closely watching developments in Israeli politics in the run-up to an election in March. He wanted to see an end to armed confrontation in Gaza and to all attacks on Israeli civilians in order not to help the Israeli right into power.

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Source: Boston Globe
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