Billionaire setting up political movement to challenge Fatah, Hamas

Hundreds of Palestinian business people and professionals, led by an influential billionaire, launched a new political movement Thursday, reflecting growing disillusionment with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party. Billionaire businessman Munib al-Masri, 73, inaugurated his "Palestine Forum" with meetings in Ramallah and Gaza, linked by video conference. Supporters said he would convert the new group into a political party and field candidates in the next Palestinian election. No date for an election has been set. Fatah and Hamas have been locked in a bitter struggle since the 2006 election swept Fatah from power. In June, Hamas forces overran Gaza, prompting Abbas to dismiss the Hamas-led government and appoint his own, which, in effect, rules only the West Bank. Recent polls have shown that about a third of the people have no faith in either party. Al-Masri said he plans to step into that breech, emphasizing the economy, education and welfare programs for the needy as well as reuniting the West Bank and Gaza.