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Fatah reappoints Abbas as party chairman as 7th congress kicks off

Nov. 29, 2016 1:58 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 30, 2016 3:26 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma’an) -- The Fatah party kicked off its seventh conference on Tuesday by reappointing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as chairman of the political faction, as hundreds of members of the movement and other political groups gathered in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.

According to official Palestinian Authority (PA) news agency Wafa, the attendees unanimously re-elected Abbas as Fatah chairman during the opening of the conference, dashing speculations that the event would lead to serious discussions of a post-Abbas future for the ruling party of the PA.

Member of the conference's preparatory committee, Hussein al-Sheikh also announced that the committee had elected a presidential committee for the conference. The committee included Abdullah al-Ifranji as head, Intisar al-Wazir as deputy head, Anas al-Khatib as a member, and Mahmoud Diwan as the rapporteur.

An estimated 1,322 out of an expected 1,411 participants, which included Fatah members from the West Bank, the besieged Gaza Strip and the diaspora, attended the event, according to the spokesperson of the conference.

However, at least 75 Fatah representatives were not granted permits by Israel to leave the Gaza Strip to attend the conference, and slammed on Tuesday the party’s decision to go ahead with the event despite a third of the Gaza representatives not being able to attend.

Saadi Salameh, one of the participants from Gaza, urged Abbas -- who heads the PA, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and Fatah -- to "intervene personally" and exert pressure on Israel to grant them permits, noting that he had planned to run in the elections of members of the Fatah Revolutionary Council during the conference.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces temporarily held two Jordanian lawmakers and a former lawmaker at the Hizma checkpoint north of Jerusalem as they arrived to take part in the conference. Israeli authorities eventually released them after Jordanian officials intervened, according to Omar Qaraqish, a Jordanian lawmaker.

Abbas was scheduled to deliver a speech in front of the assembly on Tuesday to address the political situation in Palestine in the presence of dozens of guests from other Palestinian factions, who are expected to leave the conference afterwards, as the remainder of the days-long congress will mainly tackle internal Fatah issues.

The Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements had said earlier this week that they had been invited to send representatives to attend the seventh congress.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC) also declared on Monday that one of its leader, Nasser Rasmi Kittanah, would attend the conference after receiving an invitation by Fatah.

In his opening speech, Abbas said there were 60 delegations from more than 20 countries attending the opening ceremony as guests.

Khalid Mashaal, head of the Hamas movement, said during the conference that Hamas was ready for a partnership with Fatah and all other Palestinian national parties.

The statement was relayed by lawmaker Ahmad al-Hajj on behalf of Mashaal, saying that “we are partners in our home country, our struggle, our cause, and our decisions, and we are ready for all the requirements that this partnership will take,” and added that he hoped the conference would help boost national unity to assist with political reconciliations between parties.

Meanwhile, dozens of Palestinian journalists based in the Gaza strip demonstrated near the Erez crossing on Tuesday morning urging the Palestinian Authority's Civil Affairs Committee to help them obtain permits from Israel to travel to Ramallah to cover Fatah’s congress.

The union of Palestinian journalists in Gaza said in a statement that denying journalists passage to the West Bank to cover the conference was "in line with the occupation's systematic violation of their rights."

Fatah has witnessed growing internal dissent, with the party discharging a number of officials from their functions in past months or otherwise preventing them from attending the party’s conference.

Fatah’s previous congress was held in 2009, and there had been serious speculations that the 2016 conference would address the pressing issue of preparing for the future of Fatah, the PA, and the PLO after Abbas.
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