Although it has been added to the US State Department's official list of foreign terrorist groups, the armed wing of the ruling Fatah party, Aksa Martyrs Brigades, is planning to run in the next elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council.
The group's decision is likely to embarrass Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who is already under heavy pressure from Israel to prevent Hamas from participating in the vote. Moreover, it is understood that the US and the European Union are opposed to the participation of Hamas and other terrorist groups in the elections.
Abbas, according to some of his aides, is seriously considering postponing the parliamentary elections slated for next January because of ongoing anarchy in PA-ruled areas, and fears that Hamas would make a strong showing.
The Aksa Brigades' decision is also seen as a challenge to Abbas and other veteran leaders by representatives of the young guard in Fatah. The militant group consists solely of young Fatah gunmen from the West Bank and Gaza Strip who are often critical of Abbas and Palestinian leaders who returned from Tunis after the signing of the Oslo Accords.
The power struggle between the young guard and the old guard is seen by many Palestinians as a revolt by the grassroots activists against the rule of the Abu's a reference to the nom de geurres used by Yasser Arafat and many of his lieutenants.
Established shortly after the beginning of the intifada in September 2000, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades are responsible for hundreds of attacks on Israel, including suicide and car bombings and roadside ambushes.
Earlier this week Fatah leaders decided to delay internal elections for the party because of ongoing squabbling and tensions between its members. Voters in the Fatah primaries were supposed to choose their candidates for the parliamentary elections.
The vote was postponed following protests by the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, whose members complained that Abbas and the Fatah leadership were trying to keep them away. In the past few days, gunmen belonging to the Aksa Brigades attacked with gunfire a number of Fatah rallies held in the West Bank to prepare for the party's primaries.
In one incident, gunmen opened fire at the car of Azzam al-Ahmed, a former minister and member of the Fatah central committee, which is dominated by longtime Arafat cronies, during a rally in Tulkarm. Hani al-Hassan, another veteran Fatah leader, was forced to cut short a visit to Nablus after gunmen opened fire at him and his supporters.
Abu Udai, a senior Aksa Brigades commander in the West Bank, revealed that some of the group's leaders who are in Israeli prisons would run in the parliamentary elections. These include Marwan Barghouti, Nasser Uwaiss, Jamal Hawileh and Baker Abu Baker.
"We have candidates both in Israeli prisons and outside," Abu Udai told the Bethlehem-based Maan News Agency. "We will support our candidates and stand with them."
Asked about tensions between the Aksa Martyrs Brigades and the old guard in Fatah, Abu Udai said: "It is incorrect to say that we are part of Fatah. In fact, we are the armed wing of Fatah and all the members of Fatah, including the chairman [Abbas]. There is no denying that there are tensions with the central committee of Fatah."
In a related development, the Aksa Brigades on Thursday announced that it had formed a special unit to track down and kill Palestinians suspected of "collaboration" with Israel. The new group will be called the Hawks Unit, according to a leaflet distributed by the Aksa Brigades. The leaflet issued a 48-hour ultimatum to "collaborators" to repent or face execution.