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What has been happening in Fatah lately is more than differences of opinion among the faction's top brass.

A series of incidents over the past few weeks indicate that the Palestinian Fatah faction, headed by Mahmoud Abbas, is witnessing a sharp power struggle between some of its top leaders.

The infighting in Fatah is a sign of the growing challenges facing Abbas as he continues to conduct peace talks with Israel.

Moreover, the internal squabbling raises questions about Abbas's ability to reach any agreement with Israel that would be acceptable to most Palestinians.

What has been happening in Fatah lately is more than differences of opinion among the faction's top brass.

Some Palestinians have gone as far as saying that the infighting marks the beginning of a revolt against Abbas's leadership.

Fatah gunmen have returned to the streets of some West Bank cities and refugee camps are openly challenging Abbas's leadership.

The tensions inside Fatah reached their peak this week with the faction's decision to dismiss Mahmoud Abdel Hamid Issa, a top Palestinian security commander in Lebanon.

The Fatah Central Committee decided to dismiss Issa under the pretext that he had disobeyed orders issued to him by the Fatah leadership in the West Bank.

Issa was also suspected of forging an alliance with Abbas's political foe, Mohammed Dahlan.

Dahlan himself was expelled from Fatah two years after falling out with Abbas.

Abbas and the Fatah leadership suspect that Dahlan, who is based in the United Arab Emirates, is now working to rally Fatah members around him. They are convinced that Dahlan's ultimate goal is to replace Abbas as president of the Palestinian Authority.

The decision to expel Issa and strip him of his military rank drew strong condemnations from Fatah leaders and members in Lebanon. Last week, angry Palestinians in a refugee camp in Lebanon removed Abbas's photo from the streets and public squares in protest against the dismissal of Issa.

Since then, Abbas has been working hard to prevent an all-out mutiny against his leadership. In the context of his efforts, Abbas dispatched one of his top aides, Azzam al-Ahmed, to Lebanon for urgent discussions with Issa and other Fatah officials and activists.

Following the visit, al-Ahmed declared that the many crises plaguing Fatah have weakened it significantly.

"Fatah is in need of a cleansing campaign," he said. "We have given those who committed mistakes dozens of chances, but to no avail."

But as Abbas was busy trying to put down the fire inside Fatah in Lebanon, another dispute erupted between two senior Fatah officials in the West Bank.

The latest dispute began when bodyguards escorting Jibril Rajoub, a former security commander, beat Fatah legislator Jamal Abu al-Rub.

The incident took place during a heated debate over the responsibility of Fatah thugs and gunmen for scenes of anarchy and lawlessness in Jenin.

Abu al-Rub, who is a Fatah leader from Jenin, is nicknamed "Hitler" because of his ruthless and violent attacks on Palestinians suspected of "collaboration" with Israel.

After al-Rub was beaten, Fatah gunmen issued a leaflet warning Rajoub against entering Jenin. Now Abbas is busy trying to achieve a sulha [reconciliation] between the two senior Fatah leaders-warlords.

Palestinians familiar with Fatah said that the recent tensions inside the faction were nothing compared to other and more serious rivalries that have not been made public. According to the Palestinians, these tensions may also be linked to a war of succession that has begun inside Fatah.

Several Fatah leaders, including Rajoub and Dahlan, see themselves as potential successors to the 78-year-old Abbas.

The turmoil in Fatah is likely to have a negative impact on the peace talks with Israel, especially as Abbas faces growing criticism over his decision to return to the peace talks by many Palestinians.

Until recently, Abbas's critics used to insist that he does not have a mandate from his people to sign any peace agreement with Israel. The infighting inside Fatah shows that Abbas is also beginning to lose control over his own ruling faction.

Related Topics:  Palestinian Authority  |  Khaled Abu Toameh receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free gatestone institute mailing list

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