Fatah gunmen threaten election chaos

Fatah leader: This split will remain for a very long time.

masked fatah gunman 88 (photo credit: )
masked fatah gunman 88
(photo credit: )
Fatah gunmen in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Wednesday threatened to disrupt next month's parliamentary elections, accusing the party's leadership of failing to include their representatives in a new list of candidates. Some of the gunmen attacked Palestinian Authority election offices in the Gaza Strip. The list was presented on Wednesday to the PA's central elections commission following weeks of wrangling between representatives of the Fatah young guard and old guard. The 49-member lineup is headed by jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who agreed to abandon his decision to run at the head of a breakaway list called al-Mustaqbal (Future). The decision to merge Barghouti's party with the official Fatah list was reached with the help of Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman, who visited Ramallah last week. But many Fatah officials warned that the crisis was far from over and predicted more trouble. "This split will remain for a very long time," said a veteran Fatah leader. "The wound has not been healed yet." Another official accused Abbas of "spitting in the face of the young generation." He said the new list was formed to "serve the private interests of some Fatah leaders, while ignoring the role of young activists who have been making huge sacrifices." The second slot on the list went to Muhammad Yatta, a former security prisoner who spent more than 20 years in an Israeli jail. Three old guard Fatah officials - Intisar al-Wazir (Um Jihad), Nabil Shaath and Hakam Balawi - occupied the third, fourth and fifth place. Some of Barghouti's key allies, including Muhammad Dahlan, Jibril Rajoub, Kadoura Fares and Hatem Abdel Kader, did not appear on the new list, a fact that has angered many representatives of the young generation. Moreover, some members of Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, were excluded from the list despite the fact that they had won the party's primary elections. Zakariya Zubeidi, commander of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades in Jenin, declared that his group would not allow the elections to take place in his area. He said the group would not only boycott the vote but would work toward preventing the PA from holding it. "We will prevent the elections at any cost," Zubeidi warned. "These elections don't serve Fatah and the national interests of the Palestinians. In addition, we can't hold elections under occupation." However, Dahlan urged all members of Fatah to participate in the elections and stressed that, contrary to reports in the Arab media, the party was keen on holding the vote on time. "We must fight for every vote to ensure the success of the elections, because the alternative would be darkness and confusion," he told reporters in Ramallah. Shaath, for his part, denied that Fatah was trying to persuade Hamas and other factions to agree to a postponement of the elections. But, he added, the elections won't take place unless the Arab residents of Jerusalem are permitted to cast their ballots. Abbas, meanwhile, praised Fatah's decision to unify and urged all Palestinians to come together. "What's most important is that we go through the election process united but also with sportsmanship and a spirit of transparency and fairness so that we can achieve the true democracy," he said. Earlier, masked Fatah gunmen took over election offices in the Gaza Strip, exchanging fire with police and demanding spaces for their members on the party's list. Eyewitnesses said more than 60 gunmen belonging to the Aksa Martyrs Brigades stormed the main election office, exchanging fire with some 500 PA policemen who surrounded the area and set up roadblocks. One policeman was wounded in the leg by gunfire. The gunmen left the area shortly afterwards. Similar attacks were reported in Rafah, Khan Yunis and Deir el-Balah. Three Britons were kidnapped at gunpoint in broad daylight after crossing from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. Kate Barton, 25, who works for an aid agency in the Gaza Strip, was traveling with her parents close to Rafah. Eyewitnesses said the three Britons were forced from Kate's car by the assailants and bundled into an unmarked vehicle which sped away.