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Supporters of dismissed Fatah leader Muhammad Dahlan burn pictures of Abbas in Gaza

Oct. 7, 2016 9:47 A.M. (Updated: Oct. 9, 2016 10:33 P.M.)
GAZA (Ma’an) -- Hundreds of supporters of Muhammad Dahlan, a dismissed leader of the Fatah movement in Gaza exiled from the occupied Palestinian territory, marched on Unknown Soldier square in central Gaza on Thursday and burned pictures of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

According to a Ma’an reporter, the protesters held Palestinian flags along with the flags of the Fatah movement and demanded presidential elections, while burning photographs of Abbas.

The Fatah movement, to which Abbas is affiliated, released an official statement urging its members not to participate in the protest.

The demonstration came amid local elections in Palestine that have unraveled in recent weeks, with the Palestinian government to postpone the elections for four months after coming under heavy criticism when the Palestinian Supreme Court announced on Monday that the elections would exclude the besieged Gaza Strip.

Dahlan was expelled from Fatah's governing body in June 2011 and once headed the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA)'s preventative security forces.

PA forces raided his Ramallah home and detained several of his bodyguards shortly after an appeal submitted by Dahlan against his dismissal was rejected.

Dahlan was voted out of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, the party's governing body, on June 12 that year, for suspected "criminal acts" that were not specified.

Reports leaked in 2011 said the former Fatah strongman in Gaza was suspected of building a private armed militia in the West Bank. Dahlan denied the allegations, responding with an online video message.

"A coup against whom? Do we have an authority in Ramallah to coup against? We are under occupation, one female soldier rules over the West Bank; the Civil Administration governs the West Bank," he said at the time.

Dahlan was formerly a leading Fatah figure known for his fierce opposition to the Hamas movement. He led a merciless crackdown on the group in the 1990s, rounding up thousands of Islamists who refused to recognize the legitimacy of the newly-created PA.

But he fell from grace in June 2007 after the humiliating rout of his forces by Hamas fighters during days of fierce street battles in Gaza, when Hamas expelled Fatah forces from the territory.

Two years later, he returned to the political stage when he was elected to the Fatah central committee in August 2009.

But in December 2010, he was suspended from the committee which said it had set up a commission of inquiry to examine his finances and claims he tried to set up a personal militia.

Dahlan was also accused by Fatah leaders in 2011 of poisoning the late Yasser Arafat, but PA sources had told Ma'an at the time that the West Bank government had come under international and regional pressure not to pursue Dahlan.

In 2015, Dahlan made headlines once again when he called for integrating all Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, into the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), adding that he was not planning on becoming president but had the right to run in a general election "if he wants."

Dahlan also called to stop security coordination with Israel, and said he considers the Oslo Accords to be invalid.

International media has also reported plans by several Middle Eastern countries to buttress Dahlan as the next Palestinian president to replace his rival Abbas.

Critics have accused Abbas of refusing to relinquish his seat as president despite popular support for him to step down.

The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) found in a 2016 poll that at least 64 percent of the Palestinian public support the resignation of Abbas.

However, according to the same poll, only 4 percent of the Palestinian public support Dahlan to become the successor of Abbas, while 33 percent support Marwan Barghouti, an imprisoned Fatah leader, to replace Abbas as the next Palestinian president.
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