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Palestinian Fatah seeks renewal, rejuvenation
Sun Aug 9, 2009 10:10am EDT
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By Ali Sawafta and Mohammed Assadi
BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters) - The congress of the leading Palestinian party, Fatah, voted on Sunday for a new executive body and assembly filled with fresh faces to regain the lost trust of the Palestinian people.
The movement led by the late Yasser Arafat for 40 years wants to shed a reputation for corruption and cronyism that led in 2006 to a stunning election loss to its Islamist rival Hamas, which opposes peace with Israel.
Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in a civil war a year later, splitting the Palestinian independence movement.
Ninety-six candidates, six of them women, are standing for election to the 21-member central committee and 617 party members, including 50 women, will vie for the 80 places open in a 128-seat Revolutionary Council, the body's parliament.
Voting by secret ballot for these positions was launched on Sunday afternoon in a process expected to take at least 10 hours. Tabulating results could take about a day.
Delegates passed a motion earlier reaffirming that "the aim of Fatah as a liberation movement is to end the Israeli occupation and achieve independence for the Palestinian people in a state with East Jerusalem as its capital."
"Despite our commitment to the option of a just peace and our efforts to accomplish it, we will not drop any options and we believe resistance in all its forms is a legitimate right of occupied peoples in confronting their occupiers," it said.
The congress of 2,355 delegates in Bethlehem -- Fatah's first in 20 years -- began last Tuesday, marked by reformists' charges of vote-buying and nepotism by the "old guard."
If stalled peace talks with Israel resume, Fatah's leader, the Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, will be Israel's main interlocutor, a position Hamas is certain to continue challenging whatever the convention's outcome.
PEACE IS CENTRAL ISSUE
Holding its first meeting on Palestinian soil in 44 years of existence is part of Fatah's efforts to underpin Abbas's personal authority as the voice of all Palestinians.
Abbas would create a Palestinian state alongside Israel, roughly along borders created by the 1967 Middle East war.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak deplored Fatah's anti-Israel rhetoric but stressed that "it must be understood there is no Middle East solution other than a comprehensive, broad settlement including us and the Palestinians."
Abbas, 74, won unanimous endorsement by a show of hands on Saturday, telling the congress it must mark a new beginning.
"We've had many launches and setbacks. Sometimes we have reached the edge of the abyss but we have always emerged stronger," he said to applause. Continued...
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