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Jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti urges unity

Marwan Barghouti (2004)
Marwan Barghouti was convicted for the killings of four Israelis and a Greek

A jailed leader of the Fatah movement, Marwan Barghouti, says Palestinian factions must be united and launch a campaign to achieve statehood.

Mr Barghouti said the impasse in peace talks with Israel meant there was "no excuse" for the fierce rivalry between Fatah and Hamas.

"The necessary strategy is firstly ending the division," he told Reuters.

Mr Barghouti, one of the most prominent Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, is serving five life sentences for murder.

He was convicted in 2004 for the killings of four Israelis and a Greek monk during the second intifada, which broke out in 2000. He denies the charges.

Betting on negotiations alone was never our choice - I have always called for a constructive mix of negotiation, resistance, political, diplomatic and popular action
Marwan Barghouti

The 50-year-old was nevertheless elected to Fatah's central committee in August, and is now considered a candidate to replace Mahmoud Abbas as president of the Palestinian Authority. Mr Abbas has said he will not seek re-election.

Correspondents say such an outcome would depend on him being freed in a prisoner exchange, possibly in return for the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was captured by militants in Gaza in 2006.

German mediators have reportedly been involved in negotiations in recent days, and Palestinian sources say progress has been made.

'Non excuse'

Responding in writing from his prison cell to questions sent by Reuters news agency, Mr Barghouti said that with the peace process at a standstill, it was time for Fatah and Hamas to sign a reconciliation accord so legislative and presidential elections could be held.

"I do not see that there are fundamental political differences between Fatah and Hamas," he said, adding that the confrontation between them in the Gaza Strip in 2007, which saw Hamas seize control of the territory, was "a crime against the nation".

Posters of Marwan Barghouti behind Hamas flags (2007)
Mr Barghouti is widely respected by all Palestinian factions, even by Hamas

"In the shadow of the failure of negotiations and the absence of an Israeli partner for peace, the necessary strategy is firstly ending the division and restoring national unity," he added.

"There is no excuse in the world that prevents national reconciliation, especially in light of the latest developments and the blocked horizon for negotiations."

The peace talks are stalled because the Palestinians have refused to attend until Israel stops building settlements on all occupied territory, while Israel has offered only to restrict the growth in the West Bank, and not East Jerusalem.

Mr Barghouti called for a "popular campaign" against settlement activity, what he described as the "Judaisation" of East Jerusalem, the blockade of Gaza, land appropriation and the construction of the West Bank barrier.

"Betting on negotiations alone was never our choice. I have always called for a constructive mix of negotiation, resistance, political, diplomatic and popular action," he added.

Asked if he would run for president if released from jail, Mr Barghouti said: "When national reconciliation is accomplished and there is agreement on holding elections, I will take the appropriate decision."

As leader of Fatah in the West Bank during the second intifada, Mr Barghouti led protest marches to Israeli checkpoints, and spurred on Palestinians in speeches, condoning the use of force to expel Israel from the West Bank and Gaza.

He gained the increasing support of the Palestinian "street" while the more established Fatah leaders were seen as part of the old guard.

However, he was arrested by Israel in April 2002, and later charged with killing 26 people and belonging to a terrorist organisation.

At his trial he denied being the founder of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, which has carried out operations against Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, and suicide attacks inside Israel.

But even after he was jailed, Mr Barghouti continued to play an important role as a political figure, helping negotiate a short-lived unilateral truce declared by the main militant groups in 2003.



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