Fatah: J'lem must be made void of settlers

Aksa Martyrs Brigades endorsed as armed wing at assembly; Abbas reappointed as Fatah head.

abbas speaks 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
abbas speaks 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Fatah's sixth General Assembly on Saturday approved a resolution saying Jerusalem is an "integral part of the Palestinian homeland and political entity" and vowing to foil Israel's alleged efforts to erase the city's Arab and Islamic character. The resolution is the latest in a series of hard-line decisions that were adopted by the conference over the past few days. The new resolution says that Fatah considers Jerusalem a "red line" that no one could cross. It defines Jerusalem as the "eternal capital of Palestine, the Arab world and the Islamic and Christian worlds." The city "is awaiting our sacrifices" and Fatah pledges to continue to make sacrifices "until Jerusalem returns to the Palestinians void of settlers and settlements," according to the resolution. The conference also endorsed the Aksa Martyrs Brigades as Fatah's official armed wing. Zakariya Zubeidi, one of the commanders of the armed group who delivered a speech before the assembly over the weekend, hailed the decision. He said the decision to endorse his group was announced by Othman Abu Gharbiyeh, chairman of Fatah's sixth General Assembly. "Abu Gharbiyeh announced before the conference that Fatah would never give up the Aksa Martyrs Brigades," Zubeidi said. "He stressed that the endorsement of our group was parallel to the continued brandishing of the olive branch as a symbol for peace." Zubeidi is among some 700 delegates who have presented their candidacy for the 120-member Revolutionary Council. He said that if elected he would represent the Aksa Martyrs Brigades in the council. Fatah leaders had initially banned Zubeidi, who for many years was wanted by Israel for his involvement in terrorism, from participating in the meetings of the conference. However, under pressure from many Fatah members, he was eventually permitted to attend as a delegate representing the armed group. The Aksa Martyrs Brigades, which was established shortly after the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000, has been responsible for many terrorist attacks - including suicide bombings - that killed and wounded hundreds of people. Zubeidi was not the only member of the Brigades to attend the conference. Another top operative of the armed group, Rabi Hamed from Ramallah, also attended the meetings. The endorsement of the group as Fatah's official armed wing contradicts promises made by the Fatah leadership to the effect that the Aksa Martyrs Brigades have been dismantled. Moreover, it shows that the group is still active in the West Bank and that its gunmen are active members in some of Fatah's institutions. The conference also decided to appoint 20 Fatah security prisoners held in Israeli jails as members of the Revolutionary Council, "in honor of the sacrifices and devotion of all the prisoners." Issa Qaraqi, the Palestinian Authority's minister for prisoners affairs, said the decision was aimed at sending a message to Israel that the Palestinian prisoners are not "murderers and terrorists." Also on Saturday, the conference unanimously elected PA President Mahmoud Abbas as "general commander" of Fatah for another five-year term. Abbas was the only candidate for the top post. His election was received with thunderous applause by a majority of delegates. "Everyone came to the conference with a desire to achieve the goal of liberating the land," Abbas said in a short speech after his election. The Foreign Ministry spokesman said the Israeli government had no comment on the statements coming from the conference. Delegates were supposed to vote on Friday for new members of the Revolutionary Council and the Central Committee of Fatah. However, the vote was postponed until Sunday due to a row over the participation of delegates from the Gaza Strip. Hundreds of Fatah members have been banned by Hamas from leaving the Strip to attend the conference. Their absence has been exploited by the Fatah leadership in the West Bank to squeeze the Gaza Strip representatives out of the faction's key decision-making bodies. To avoid a deepening crisis, some Fatah operatives have raised the possibility that the faction's members in the Gaza Strip would cast their votes either by phone or e-mail or at ballot boxes stationed inside the Qatari Embassy in Gaza City or on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing. At least 110 delegates have presented their candidacy for membership of the Central Committee, considered the most important Fatah institution. The committee, which has only 21 members, has long been dominated by old guard leaders of Fatah. Veteran Fatah leaders appeared determined over the weekend to retain exclusive control over the committee. About 85 percent of the candidates are considered representatives of the old guard. On Friday, the conference witnessed yet another stormy session as delegates discussed the circumstances that led to Fatah's collapse in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007. Addressing the conference, the former Fatah security commander in the Gaza Strip, Muhammad Dahlan, held the movement's political leadership responsible for the Hamas victory. He accused the Fatah leadership of failing to take action to prevent the Gaza Strip from falling into the hands of Hamas. He said that the Fatah Central Committee even refused to issue a statement condemning the assassination attempt on the life of Tarek Abu Rajab, then head of the PA's General Intelligence Service in the Strip. Dahlan added that when Hamas militiamen surrounded the home of Muhammad Gharib, another Fatah security commander, for 12 hours before murdering him in cold blood, the Fatah leadership failed to act to save his life. Dahlan criticized the findings of a special commission of inquiry that was formed after the defeat of Fatah, saying it had indicted those who fought but lost instead of blaming those who "colluded" with Hamas. Haviv Rettig Gur contributed to this report.