The PLO on Tuesday condemned one of its veteran leaders as "deranged" and vowed to expel him from the organization.
The attack on Farouk Qaddoumi, the estranged PLO leader who is also a top representative of Fatah, came after he accused Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and former PA security chief Mohammed Dahlan of being accomplices in the "assassination" of Yasser Arafat.
The PLO Executive Committee, a key decision-making body, said its members were planning to hold an emergency meeting soon to discuss Qaddoumi's allegations and the possibility of taking legal and disciplinary measures against him.
The committee described Qaddoumi's accusations as "hysterical," adding that the veteran PLO official had "lost his political and psychological balance." It said that Qaddoumi was a man suffering from a "sick mind," saying that if he had evidence to back up his charges against Abbas and Dahlan he should have made them public when Arafat died five years ago.
Dahlan responded by hinting that Qaddoumi was a senile man who is not to be taken seriously.
"Apparently his advanced age is responsible for the remarks he made," Dahlan said, adding that he consulted with Abbas about the most appropriate way to respond to Qaddoumi.
Hakam Balawi, a senior PLO official closely associated with Abbas, said that Qaddoumi was renowned for his "fabrications" and "hallucinations." Balawi said, however, that what was extremely serious about Qaddoumi's accusations was that he was exonerating Israel from involvement in the death of Arafat.
"He's a man with a sick mind and character," Balawi said of Qaddoumi. "He has always excelled in spreading corruption and lies about our leadership."
Balawi called on the PLO and Fatah to expel Qaddoumi from all their institutions and to deprive him of any funding.
Qaddoumi dropped a bombshell earlier this week when he told reporters in the Jordanian capital of Amman that Arafat had handed him before his death a protocol of a meeting where Abbas, Dahlan, former prime minister Ariel Sharon and US intelligence officers allegedly planned to assassinate the former PA chairman.
Qaddoumi presented the reporters with a summary of the ostensible protocol in which Sharon allegedly told Abbas and Dahlan that they must also work toward eliminating the political and military leaders of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah's armed wing, the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Sharon was also quoted - according to the "protocol" - as telling Abbas and Dahlan that the first step should be to kill Arafat with poison.
Many Palestinians are still convinced that Arafat, who died of an unknown disease in November 2004, had been poisoned by some of his top aides on instructions from Israel.
Abbas was quoted in the same documents that were presented by Qaddoumi as saying that he would face "many difficulties" if Arafat died before he (Abbas) managed to take control over all the PA institutions, Fatah and events on the ground.
The documents also quoted Dahlan as informing Sharon that he had established a special force in the West Bank and Gaza Strip whose main task was to monitor the movements of all the leaders of various Palestinian organizations, including Hamas and Fatah.
Qaddoumi told the reporters that the special force was responsible for the elimination of several armed groups in the PA-controlled territories.
Lashing out at Abbas, Qaddoumi accused him of stealing some of Arafat's titles and of establishing an autocratic regime in the PA territories.
"The man (Abbas) has fallen in love with titles used by president Arafat," Qaddoumi added. "First he asked to be named overall commander of the Palestinian revolution and then the exiled president of Palestine."
Qaddoumi's charges are believed to be linked to Abbas's controversial decision to convene Fatah's sixth assembly in Bethlehem next month. Qaddoumi and many Fatah officials living outside the West Bank and Gaza Strip have announced that they would boycott the conference, insisting that it be held in one of the Arab countries and not "under Israeli occupation." They believe that Abbas's decision is aimed at undermining their power in Fatah since the majority of those who are expected to attend the conference will be Abbas loyalists from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Fatah assembly, which last met some 20 years ago, is expected to set a date for holding internal elections in the ruling faction - a step that is almost certain to see the rise of young grassroots activists to the top echelons.
A leaflet distributed by Fatah members in Ramallah described Qaddoumi as a pathetic and deranged opportunist and liar, and called for his dismissal from all PLO and Fatah governing bodies.