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Muhammad Shehadeh, an Islamic Jihad activist from Bethlehem who has been wanted by Israel for 12 years, has become one of the city's most popular candidates for this week's parliamentary election.
At the age of 43, Shehadeh is running as an independent because of Islamic Jihad's decision to boycott the vote. His election motto is: "No homeland with injustice."
Shehadeh is not the only fugitive who is vying for the vote. Jamal Abu Rob, one of the senior commanders of Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, is also running in his hometown of Jenin. Nicknamed "Hitler," Abu Rob became famous a few years ago for killing Palestinian "collaborators" in public squares.
Armed with a Kalashnikov rifle and flanked by armed bodyguards, Shehadeh has been campaigning in Bethlehem for several weeks, hoping to persuade as many residents as possible to vote for him in Wednesday's election.
Although he has rarely appeared in public, Shehadeh's posters appear throughout the city, where he also has an election office run by a handful of supporters. To avoid being tracked down by Israel, Shehadeh often addresses election rallies by phone.
In a brief interview with Palestinian journalists, Shehadeh said he was proud that his supporters included some Christians. "I represent everyone here," he said. "I want to fight against anyone who steals the money of the Palestinians."
In 1980, Shehadeh, then a member of Fatah, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in terrorist attacks against Israelis. He was released in the 1985 prisoner swap between Israel and the Popular Front-General Command headed by Damascus-based Ahmed Jibril.
Upon his release, he joined Islamic Jihad and became one of its prominent figures in the Bethlehem area. In 1992, Shehadeh was among more than 400 Hamas and Islamic Jihad members who were deported to southern Lebanon for one year. Since his return, he has been on the run, evading several attempts by the IDF to detain him.
In a 2003 interview with the Palestinian Authority's Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda daily, Shehadeh, who is an expert in manufacturing bombs, boasted that he had "personal" relations with top PA officials. "I have very good relations with all the factions, including Fatah."
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