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Former Fatah strongman denies meeting Israeli official

Feb. 6, 2014 1:23 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 8, 2014 9:07 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Former Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan on Thursday denied media reports that he had met with an Israeli official as part of discussions to be a potential replacement for President Mahmoud Abbas.

Earlier, Israeli daily Maariv reported that Benjamin Netanyahu had sent his political adviser Yitzhak Molcho to Dubai to meet with the former Fatah official.

The move was described as an attempt to build good relations with Dahlan as a potential political partner if Israel and the PLO fail to reach an agreement in ongoing peace talks.

Israeli officials reportedly believe that Dahlan's popularity in both the Gaza Strip and West Bank make him a suitable replacement for Abbas, Maariv said.

Dahlan told Ma'an that he has not met with Yitzhak Molcho for personal or political reasons since the late 1990s, when both officials were involved in negotiations.

"If the Palestinian people's interest requires that I meet with any Israeli personality at a lecture, a conference or any other occasion, I do not do that secretly behind the scenes as some Palestinians did while Israel besieged our late leader Yasser Arafat," he said.

Dahlan called the Maariv report pure "fiction" and said that people like him would never accept what the Israelis are proposing in peace talks.

A former security chief in the Gaza Strip under Fatah, Dahlan fled the West Bank after his ouster from the party in 2011, after which security forces raided his home.

Fatah's Central Committee said at the time that he was expelled for harming Palestinian national interests and coercing outside parties to commit crimes over a number of years.

The committee said that Dahlan had led a racket which stole money from the Palestinian Investment Fund and controlled crossings and the movement of goods and people.

Leaked reports also said that the former Fatah strongman in Gaza was building a private armed militia in the West Bank. Dahlan denied the allegations.
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