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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 December 2005, 16:03 GMT
Fatah splits before key election
Students hold posters of Marwan Barghouti in the West Bank town of Nablus
Marwan Barghouti heads the rebel ballot list
A dispute within the ruling Palestinian party, Fatah, has led to a rival faction submitting its own list of candidates for a parliamentary poll.

The rebel list is headed by a jailed activist, Marwan Barghouti, under the new name al-Mustaqbal (the Future).

The split is seen as a blow for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and the so-called Fatah "old guard".

The 25 January poll will be only the second since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1995.

The rebel list of Fatah was filed before the midnight deadline (2200 GMT) by the wife of Barghouti at the election headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Barghouti's campaign manager, Saeb Nimr, later told reporters: "We have registered an independent party under the name 'The Future', headed by Marwan Barghouti."

Barghouti is serving five life terms in an Israeli prison over militant attacks.

'New dawn'

He is joined in al-Mustaqbal by the powerful minister of civil affairs, Mohammed Dahlan, and the former security chief in the West Bank, Jibril Rajoub.

"This is a new dawn," Dahlan told reporters.

"We will remain loyal to this movement, and Fatah will come out victorious."

The Abbas-approved Fatah list was submitted later by Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser al-Kidwa.

Surprisingly, Barghouti's name was at the top of the official list too.

It also included Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, who resigned on Wednesday as required by law for cabinet members who run for parliament.

Divisions

Tensions within Fatah turned to violence on Wednesday when three people were injured in clashes at the party headquarters in Gaza.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
President Abbas insists January's election will be held on schedule

The clashes began after gunmen from Fatah's new guard stormed the building and demanded the party's primary results be respected.

President Abbas had decided to appoint candidates for the 25 January parliamentary election after the primaries were marred by violence and electoral fraud.

Ever since the death of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, divisions have been growing within the Fatah, the BBC's Matthew Price in Jerusalem reports.

The so-called old and new guard have disagreed for some time over the direction the party should take, our correspondent says.

There are fears that the in-fighting could throw Palestinian politics into chaos and could even threaten the election process itself, he says.

Hamas 'optimistic'

Fatah is expected to face a strong challenge in January's poll from the militant Islamist group, Hamas.

Hamas - which has issued a list of its 62 candidates on Wednesday - boycotted the first parliament.

Its electoral list includes its top two leaders in its Gaza Strip stronghold, Mahmud Zahar and Ismail Haniya.

"We are optimistic that our people will go to vote in this historical event," said Mr Haniya after the Hamas delegation he was leading presented its list at Gaza's central election commission office.

Local elections

Hamas is also expected to perform well in Thursday's local elections in the West Bank, having been successful in the three previous rounds.

The Islamists have attacked Fatah for corruption and incompetence while leading the Palestinian Authority.

Around 148,000 Palestinians are entitled to vote for 414 local councillors in the West Bank.

The first few hours of voting passed peacefully.

But in the Gaza Strip, Israel launched further air strikes on Palestinian militant groups.

One person was wounded in an attack on the house of the Popular Resistance Committees in the northern town of Beit Lahiya.

A second strike hit the offices of a charity associated with the militant group, Islamic Jihad, in the southern city of Rafah. No casualties were reported.

The air strikes came just hours after four members of the Popular Resistance Committees were killed when their car was hit by an Israeli missile near Gaza City.

An Islamic Jihad official was wounded in a similar attack.

Israel has stepped up targeted strikes on members of Palestinian militant groups following a suicide bombing in the town of Netanya earlier this month.


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