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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 November, 2004, 21:23 GMT
Abbas unhurt in shooting spree
Bodyguards hustle Mahmoud Abbas away after shots were fired nearby on Sunday
Mr Abbas insists it was not an attempt on his life
One of the most prominent figures in the Palestinian leadership, Mahmoud Abbas, has escaped injury in a shooting incident in Gaza City.

Armed men shouted angry slogans and shot into the air as Mr Abbas was visiting a mourning tent for Mr Arafat.

Mr Abbas was bundled away by security guards. Two guards were shot and died.

The incident, which has fanned fears of a power struggle after Mr Arafat's death, comes after a date was named for elections to choose his successor.

Elections for the president of the Palestinian Authority are to be held on 9 January.

Tensions high

Crowds of armed men were gathered at the sea-front compound when Mr Abbas - backed in some quarters to assume the Palestinian leadership - arrived at sundown.

It is very normal... Emotions are charged
Mahmoud Abbas

They began shouting slogans against Mr Abbas and his close ally, former Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan, including "Abbas and Dahlan are agents for the Americans", one report said.

Shots were fired into the air and Mr Abbas, who remained calm, was quickly bundled into a car and driven away. But more shooting ensued in the darkness.

As well as the two security guards reported to have died at least four Palestinians were injured, medics say.

The gunmen, believed to have been members of Mr Abbas' own fractured Fatah party, escaped.

In an interview with Palestinian TV shortly after the incident, Mr Abbas played it down.

"It is very normal," he said.

"Emotions are charged... I am certain that the issue does not have any political or personal dimension."

He blamed the incident on the crowds and "friction" among the armed men, and said he was "100% sure" it had not been an assassination attempt.

There is no doubt that the outbreak of violence was exactly the kind of thing that the new Palestinian leadership was hoping to avoid when it pleaded for calm in the wake of Mr Arafat's death, says the BBC's Alan Johnston in Gaza.

Mr Abbas was chosen as chairman of Palestine Liberation Organisation and Fatah - the biggest faction in the PLO and Mr Arafat's political organisation - after Mr Arafat died.

Left to right: Ahmed Qurei, Mahmoud Abbas and Farouk Kaddoumi
Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei - has taken charge of the Palestinian Authority
Mahmoud Abbas - the former prime minister now heads the PLO, the umbrella body bringing together most Palestinian factions
Farouk Kaddoumi - now heads the Fatah faction

He is seen as a moderate pragmatist, liked by Israel and the US but lacking strong popular support at home.

He is a strong contender for the Fatah candidacy in elections which interim President Rawhi Fattuh on Sunday announced would be held on 9 January.

Other potential successors include the Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, who has effectively become the head of the Palestinian Authority, and Farouk Kaddoumi, who was appointed as head of Fatah after Mr Arafat's death.

Speaking at the Ramallah compound where Mr Arafat was buried on Friday, Mr Fattuh said candidates would be invited to put themselves forward for a period of 12 days from 20 November.

The election campaign will begin on 27 December and close the day before the poll is held.

Under Palestinian law, elections must be held within 60 days of a president's incapacitation or death.

Jerusalem question

The Palestinians have called on the US and the European Union to stop what they term any Israeli obstruction to holding a free, fair and complete vote.

The election has reportedly led to disagreements in the Israeli cabinet. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom has said Palestinians living in east Jerusalem should not vote because it could compromise talks on the status of the city.

But Israeli officials said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did not share Mr Shalom's view, and pointed out that east Jerusalem Palestinians had voted in the 1996 elections.

Mr Qurei insisted the 228,000 Arabs in Jerusalem had the same right to vote as any other Palestinians.

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