Page last updated at 15:19 GMT, Monday, 10 August 2009 16:19 UK

Fatah awaits congress vote result

Fatah congress delegates cast their votes
The vote was initially scheduled for Thursday

Members of Fatah, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's faction, are awaiting results from their first vote for key leadership roles in 20 years.

The vote was delayed for several days amid rows over the process, during a congress aiming to dispel the group's image as corrupt and divided.

Younger members want to wrest more control from older leaders.

Delegates said the congress backed changes to Fatah's charter, retaining the right to resistance by "all means".

International observers have been watching to see if Fatah, which committed itself to peace negotiations in the early 1990s, would rule out armed struggle.

According to conference delegates, proposed revisions to the movement's charter were discussed, although no final document has been agreed.

Under the changes, the call to "liquidate the Zionist entity" would remain, delegates said.

But Fatah members said the addition of a commitment to "two states for two people" was proposed, with the specification that a Palestinian state be established on the basis of 1967 borders - meaning all of the West Bank and Gaza.

Delegates said a clause would also be included stating that "peace is a strategic choice", but Fatah "maintains the right of resistance... by all means possible", in line with a statement made by Mr Abbas on Tuesday.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas in front of Yasser Arafat poster at Fatah conference

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said the conference had been "disappointing and not promising", but there was "no other path" than peace negotiations.

On Saturday, the faction backed Mr Abbas, who was standing unopposed to continue as its leader.

But there is strong competition between rival camps for 18 seats on the powerful 23 member central committee, for which vote-counting was expected to begin on Monday evening.

Proceedings have been hindered by a row over the treatment of the votes of about 400 Gaza-based delegates who were prevented from travelling to the congress in the West Bank town of Bethlehem by the rival Palestinian faction, Hamas.

Hamas controls the Gaza Strip and refused to allow the delegates to leave unless Fatah released some 900 Hamas prisoners the Islamist movement says are being held in the West Bank.

The issue has been controversial as it could affect the chances of former Gaza security head Mohammad Dahlan, a younger but highly divisive figure, being elected to the committee.

Votes from Gaza have been registered by e-mail and mobile phone.

Fatah is trying to halt internal battles in an attempt to improve its image among Palestinian voters ahead of possible elections in January 2010.

Delegates seeking to modernise the movement have accused the "old guard" of packing the conference with sympathisers to squeeze out younger members.

Correspondents say that, without major reform, Fatah will struggle to restore its image among Palestinians.

Nonetheless, opinion polls suggest it is currently more popular than Hamas, which defeated it in parliamentary elections in 2006.

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