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Al-Barguthi to run for Palestine president
Jailed Palestinian leader Marwan al-Barghuthi has decided to run for Palestinian president, reversing his earlier decision to stay out of the race.
Palestinian officials said on Wednesday that al-Barguthi - perhaps the most popular Palestinian politician following Yasir Arafat's death - told his wife during a visit to his Israeli jail cell to register him as a candidate in the 9 January election.
She has until midnight (2200 GMT) to file papers but had not yet done so.
Al-Barghuthi's decision to run as an independent could throw the election wide open and pose a dramatic challenge to current front-runner, Mahmud Abbas, a former prime minister who lacks strong grassroots support.
"Marwan al-Barghuthi plans to run in the presidential election," said an official of Fatah, the dominant Palestinian political faction that recently named Abbas as its candidate.
Palestinian officials originally said last Thursday that al-Barguthi had decided not to run. But after he came under pressure from Fatah officials worried about a split in their movement, he opted on Friday to drop his candidacy.
Al-Barguthi is currently imprisoned in an Israeli jail accused of assisting attacks on Israeli civilians. He denies the charges.
Hamas election boycott
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Islamic resistance group Hamas has pledged to boycott a 9 January presidential election for a successor to Yasir Arafat.
"We in the Islamic resistance announce our boycott and our non-participation in the presidential elections for the Palestinian Authority," Ismail Haniya, a senior Hamas leader, told reporters in Gaza City on Wednesday.
"All Hamas members will abide by the decision to boycott the elections. The Palestinian people understand the need and are well aware of the Hamas position but there is no call for ordinary Palestinans not to vote," he said.
In Beirut, a Hamas official said Mahmud Abbas - the favourite to succeed Arafat - planned to meet members of Hamas when he travels to Damascus next week.
The official said Abbas spoke by telephone to Hamas politburo head Khalid Mishal on Saturday and that they agreed to meet on 6 December.
Haniya said Hamas was not fielding a presidential candidate because it considered the election merely a tool to prop up the Palestinian Authority, created under interim peace deals Arafat forged with Israel a decade ago that Islamic groups rejected.
Hamas has previously called for a share of power in an interim post-Arafat leadership and parliamentary and municipal elections. No Palestinian vote has been held since 1996.
Abbas, nominated by the Fatah movement which dominates the Palestinian Authority, wants an armed Palestinian revolt against Israel in the occupied territories to stop.
He aims to renew peace talks with Israel aimed at a Palestinian state in the occupied territories.
If Abbas does go to Damascus, it would be a rare public contact between Syria and Palestinian leaders close to Arafat, whose pursuit of a negotiated peace with Israel under the 1993 Oslo Accords infuriated Syria.
It would also come during a battle for influence between Abbas, who is favoured by Israel and the United States, and less conciliatory but popular Palestinian groups like Hamas.
The Islamic resistance organisation and other Palestinian factions opposed to Oslo were hosted for years in Damascus, but have kept a lower profile since Washington boosted pressure on Syria over their presence in recent years.
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) - Associates of Marwan Barghouti said Wednesday the jailed Palestinian uprising leader has decided to run for president, reversing an earlier decision and throwing Palestinian politics into disarray.
Saed Nimr, head of the campaign to free Barghouti from an Israeli prison, confirmed the candidacy. His office said Barghouti's campaign paid a $3,000 deposit Wednesday and that his wife was preparing to submit formal registration papers before a midnight deadline.
Barghouti's candidacy would undermine the prospects of interim Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, the presidential candidate of the ruling Fatah movement.
Fatah officials have warned that a bid by Barghouti, who is a leading Fatah member and more popular than the staid Abbas, could split the movement. Barghouti would have to run as an independent candidate.
Hamas, meanwhile, announced that it will boycott the Jan. 9 election, the first sign of open tensions between Abbas and the Islamic opposition group since the death of Yasser Arafat on Nov. 11.
The announcement could undercut the legitimacy of the election, though Hamas said it would honor the outcome. Hamas has tens of thousands of supporters and is particularly strong in the Gaza Strip.
Also Wednesday, Israel and Egypt reached agreement for Egypt to deploy 750 troops along its border with the Gaza Strip ahead of Israel's planned withdrawal from the territory, senior Israeli officials said.
The decision was made at a meeting in Jerusalem between Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, according to the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is to begin in July 2005, according to the government's ``unilateral disengagement'' plan.
Barghouti, who represents the younger generation in Fatah, has wavered repeatedly on whether to run. Several days ago, he announced he would drop out of the race for the sake of unity.
However, on Wednesday, Barghouti's campaign paid the bank deposit required of independent presidential candidates, Nimr said. Barghouti's wife, Fadwa, who visited him in prison Wednesday, was en route to Ramallah to submit the formal papers for her husband's candidacy to the Central Election Commission, Nimr said.
Barghouti's backers have collected the required 5,000 signatures of support in recent days, and were to submit them along with the application.
Barghouti's return to the campaign threatened to divide what had been a united front in Fatah. Many young Fatah activists have complained that the long-entrenched Palestinian leadership has frozen them out of key positions. But after Barghouti said last Friday that he would not run, the young guard pledged to unite behind Abbas.
A Barghouti presidency would also shake up the chances for resuming the peace process. Abbas has been critical of the armed uprising against Israel and is eager to resume peace talks. Barghouti also favors a negotiated settlement, but has also praised armed confrontations.
Israel, for its part, says Barghouti is a murderer and has said he won't be released from prison.
Barghouti, 45, is serving five consecutive life terms in an Israeli prison for his role in deadly shooting attacks that killed four Israelis and a Greek monk. Barghouti has denied involvement in violence.
Word of Barghouti's candidacy came just hours after Abbas formally launched his campaign for Palestinian Authority president.
Abbas called for a renewal of peace talks with Israel and said the two sides would meet after the election. ``We must have a dialogue with the Israelis,'' Abbas said at his campaign headquarters. ``After the elections, we will meet again'' to discuss the road map.
The internationally backed peace plan calls for the establishment of an independent state next year, but has been stalled since it was signed in June 2003.
The Palestinians have failed to meet their commitment to crack down on militant groups like Hamas, while Israel hasn't kept its pledge to halt settlement construction and pull down settlement outposts.
Abbas indicated that he is ready to take action against the militants. ``Every nation has opposition groups, but there are also laws and institutions,'' he said. ``I am committed to having one authority and only one army and political pluralism.''
He brushed off the Hamas boycott. Hamas sat out the first Palestinian general election in 1996 because it was a result of interim peace deals with Israel. Hamas opposes peace talks and is committed to Israel's destruction.
With the road map stalled, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has pushed forward with his plan to pull out of the Gaza Strip and four small enclaves in the West Bank.
Sharon initially envisioned the moves as a unilateral act, arguing that he has no Palestinian partner. But since Arafat's death Nov. 11, Sharon has expressed willingness to coordinate the withdrawal with the new Palestinian leadership.
However, Israel still wants Egyptian involvement as a mediator.
Details of the Egyptian troop deployment including the placement of the soldiers and the types of weapons they will be allowed to carry will be decided at future meetings, the Israeli officials said.
They said the deployment would not require a change in the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty of 1979, which forbids the presence of Egyptian troops adjacent to Gaza. Instead, there would be facilitated by an exchange of letters between the sides.
Israel has been pressing for Egyptian help because it fears a Gaza withdrawal will leave a security vacuum. Gaza has been plagued by increasing chaos in recent months. Palestinian militants have also stepped up attacks on Israelis in the area in recent months to make it appear as if Israel is fleeing.