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(photo credit: AP [file])
The Bush administration is exerting heavy pressure on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to appoint senior Fatah figure Muhammad Dahlan as his deputy, sources in Ramallah said Sunday.
According to the sources, Abbas has rejected the US demand, triggering a crisis with Washington. They said tensions between Abbas and Dahlan had escalated over the past few weeks after the latter criticized the PA president's performance.
Sources close to Abbas told the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masriyoon that Dahlan had been inciting Fatah cadres in the West Bank and Gaza Strip against Abbas.
They said the Egyptian government was now trying to prevent further deterioration. Egyptian mediators, they added, were expected to visit Ramallah soon to discuss ways of resolving the crisis.
Dahlan, a former Fatah security commander in the Gaza Strip, has come under criticism from several of the movement's leaders for failing to prevent the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip last June.
According to the leaders, Dahlan and his followers in the Strip had received millions of dollars and weapons from the US and other countries to undermine Hamas before the takeover - a claim Dahlan has strongly denied.
Some Fatah officials said over the weekend that the US and some EU countries had made it clear they would like to see Dahlan succeed Abbas as head of the PA.
Abbas has also come under fire from several Fatah leaders because of the appointment of former PA prime minister Ahmed Qurei as head of the team negotiating with Israel on a joint statement for the US-sponsored Middle East conference planned for Annapolis, Maryland, later this year.
In addition, a crisis has reportedly erupted between Abbas and his prime minister, Salaam Fayad.
Abbas and Fayad are said to be at odds over the latter's demand that the Palestinians display a more soft-line approach toward US efforts to convene the conference in Annapolis.
Because of the tensions between the two men, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had to hold separate meetings with each during her visit to Ramallah last week.
Abbas political adviser Nimer Hammad denied the report of a falling out, saying relations between Abbas and Fayad were good and that they were continuing to work together. He dismissed the reports as "rumors aimed at undermining the internal front."