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banner Monday, 15 April, 2002, 20:50 GMT 21:50 UK
Barghouti arrest changes political picture
Marwan Barghouti in Ramallah
Barghouti is one of the faces of the intifada
The arrest of Marwan Barghouti was a coup for Israel, whose forces launched a manhunt for him when they moved into the West Bank on 29 March.

Ariel Sharon's government views him as a leader of militants responsible for scores of attacks on Israelis.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, under the leadership of Marwan Barghouti, stand almost alone against the enemy

Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades

The leader of Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction in the West Bank, Mr Barghouti is closely identified with one of its militant offshoots, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.

But the 42-year-old is also one of the Palestinians' most prominent political leaders and has been tipped by some as a credible successor to Yasser Arafat.

He has been a major figure in the current intifada, or uprising, spurring on Palestinians in speeches at funerals and demonstrations.
Al-Aqsa militant
The Al-Aqsa Brigade has carried out several deadly attacks against Israelis

On 1 April, the Al Aqsa Brigade possibly sealed his fate when it issued a statement naming him as their leader.

The group has carried out some of the most devastating attacks on Israel this year, including the latest suicide bombing at the Mahane Yehuda open-air market in Jerusalem, which killed six Israelis.

Mr Barghouti has denied founding Al Aqsa but has hailed some operations by the group, which has also attacked Israeli military targets.

One Israeli official, Deputy Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra, said last year that he "deserved to die" for organising militant attacks.

Israel issued an arrest warrant for the Fatah leader last September, accusing him of organising paramilitaries and conspiring to murder.

Record of resistance

This intifada is nothing new to Mr Barghouti, who was an organiser of the 1987-1992 uprising and was jailed by the Israelis before being deported to Jordan.

He returned during the Oslo peace process - gaining respect among Palestinians for his scepticism about Israel's commitment to successive land-for-peace deals.

Marwan Barghouti has always identified with the grass-roots rather than the leadership

Abdel Bari Atwan, Al-Quds editor
Few members of the first intifada leadership are prominent in Mr Arafat's administration, but Mr Barghouti, who first became politically active at Bir Zeit University, is one of a handful to have moved ahead.

In 1996, he was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council with overwhelming support.

He launched a campaign against human rights abuses by Mr Arafat's own security services and corruption among his officials.

Wreckage of car destroyed in Israeli attack on a convoy carrying Barghouti in August 2000
Barghouti says Israel has tried to assassinate him
"Marwan Barghouti has always identified with the grass-roots rather than the leadership," says Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the influential pan-Arabic newspaper Al-Quds.

"His star really came into its ascendancy after he spoke out against the Palestinian Authority leadership."

While rejecting the Oslo peace process, Mr Barghouti has, in the past, spoken against attacks on civilians inside Israel.

Ironically, he would be ideally suited to negotiations with the Israelis, having mastered Hebrew while in prison and speaking fluent English.

He also reportedly counts left-wing Israelis among his friends.

What is clear is that he is a veteran leader, charismatic and determined.

If he is removed from the political field now, leadership of the Palestinians could well pass to a younger, less experienced generation of activists.

See also:

05 Mar 02 | Middle East
Profile: Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade
04 Aug 01 | Middle East
Palestinian survives missile attack
02 Dec 00 | Middle East
'Palestinian struggle will continue'
12 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel's history of bomb blasts
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