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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Rivals in Fatah Join to Endorse Candidates for Parliament - New York TimesRivals in Fatah Join to Endorse Candidates for Parliament

Rivals in Fatah Join to Endorse Candidates for Parliament - New York TimesRivals in Fatah Join to Endorse Candidates for Parliament

JERUSALEM, Dec. 28 - The two rival factions in Fatah, the party of the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, resolved enough of their differences today to submit a single list of candidates for parliamentary elections on Jan. 25.

However, the friction within Fatah was again on display, as gunmen from the movement seized election offices in five towns in the Gaza Strip and waged shootouts with the Palestinian police. Dozens of gunmen battled security forces at the election offices in Gaza City, and one policeman was shot in the leg.

Fatah has dominated Palestinian politics for decades, but is increasingly split along generational lines. Mr. Abbas, 70, represents the old guard, while younger leaders have been demanding more prominent positions.

"What is important is that we go through the election process united," Mr. Abbas said at a news conference in Gaza City. He said it was also essential that the election take place "with sportsmanship and a spirit of transparency and fairness so that we can achieve the true democracy that we all want."

Marwan Barghouti, the most prominent figure among the younger Fatah leaders, was placed at the top of the list of Fatah candidates. Mr. Barghouti, 46, is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison after being convicted last year of orchestrating five killings. He remains hugely popular among young Palestinians.

Other young leaders were also given places on the Fatah list that should assure them seats in Parliament, while a number of veteran Fatah figures are now unlikely to make the cut.

On Dec. 14, the final day to register for the elections, the young leaders announced a breakaway faction called "The Future," and submitted their own list of candidates. However, a Palestinian court ruled that the candidate lists could be revised and resubmitted today.

Fatah remains the favorite in next month's elections, but it is facing an increasingly strong challenge from the Islamic faction Hamas, which is competing for the first time.

Fatah's internal feuds have produced frequent acts of lawlessness, like today's takeover of elections offices by Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, a militant faction linked to Fatah. The gunmen, who have staged several such raids, were again demanding that the younger leaders receive prominent places on the election list.

In another development, Israel declared the northernmost part of the Gaza Strip a no-go zone for Palestinians, with military aircraft dropping leaflets that said anyone in the zone risked being shot.

"Anyone who does not heed this warning is placing his or her life in immediate danger," the leaflet says.

Palestinians fired a rocket from northern Gaza this evening, and the Israelis responded with artillery rounds, but there were no reports of injuries.

Israel pulled its troops out of Gaza in September, but says it cannot tolerate continued Palestinian rocket fire from the area. There was no indication that ground troops plan to re-enter Gaza. However, helicopters, drones and possibly other aircraft are expected to maintain round-the-clock patrols.

Mr. Abbas condemned the Israeli move, saying, "Israel left the Gaza Strip and has no right to return under any pretext, such as the firing of rockets, which I also condemn."

Israel said it was acting because the Palestinian Authority had failed to prevent the attacks.

"These steps are being taken to stop the firing of rockets on Israeli towns, which we have every right to do," said David Baker, an official in the office of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The "buffer zone" consists largely of three former Jewish settlements on the northern edge of Gaza, and the military said the zone was currently uninhabited.

Israel's military destroyed the homes after the settlers were evacuated, and the Palestinians have not yet begun removing the rubble or rebuilding the area.

However, militants have entered the former settlements to fire rockets toward the Israeli coastal town of Ashkelon, which was previously out of range. The rockets have not yet hit the town, but are coming increasingly close.

The Palestinians have fired more than 200 rockets since the Israeli pullout, according to the military. No Israelis have been killed, but the rockets have caused damage and injuries.

Also in Gaza, Palestinian gunmen kidnapped three Britons in the southern border town of Rafah, Palestinian security officials said.

Initial reports were sketchy, but security officials said it appeared the kidnapping occurred after a British couple crossed from Egypt into Gaza, where they were met by their daughter.

Gunmen in Gaza have kidnapped Westerners on multiple occasions in the past year. The gunmen have issued various demands that include jobs in the Palestinian security forces or the release of a jailed relative. All of those kidnapped have been freed unharmed, usually after just a few hours.

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