Rows erupt as Palestinian president's party meets

The second day of Fatah’s first congress in 20 years was marked by acrimonious rows on Wednesday as delegates demanded accountability from the leadership of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s party.

Hundreds of delegates at the gathering in the West Bank city of Bethlehem protested the lack of administrative and financial accounting by the Fatah leadership since the last congress in 1989.

They rejected the explanations of the party’s governing bodies that Abbas’s opening speech on Monday amounted to a report on Fatah’s management over the past 20 years.

Delegates interrupted a speech by central committee number two Ahmed Ghneim, who angrily left the podium.

Abbas, who did not take part in the debates, was called into the hall to help calm things down.

“I admit we have committed errors, even sins, but the rendering of accounts must be done during committee meetings and not through chaotic interventions,” he said.

But Abbas himself was interrupted. Security forces briefly intervened as a delegate ordered out by Abbas refused to leave the room.

“We are here to put Fatah back on track, not to settle scores,” Abbas said.

Fatah, which is at the helm of the Palestinian Authority, exercised undivided power among Palestinians before it was trounced by the rival Islamist Hamas movement in a 2006 parliamentary election.

Longstanding Hamas-Fatah tensions boiled over in June 2007 when the Islamists seized control of Gaza after a week of deadly street clashes, confining Abbas’s power base to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Infighting and corruption allegations have helped weaken the dominant position in Palestinian political life that Fatah enjoyed before the 2004 death of its founder and iconic leader Yasser Arafat.

In his opening speech, Abbas listed a litany of errors he said Fatah had committed but urged delegates to learn from them and use the congress as a platform to give Fatah a new start.

The meeting is scheduled to conclude on Thursday, but could last another day or two because of disagreements between delegates and the leadership over the agenda.

Meanwhile, Fatah members in the Gaza Strip who were prevented by Hamas from leaving the enclave to attend the congress, demanded that they be allocated a quota of positions in the party’s governing bodies—the Central Committee and the Revolutionary Council.

“Gaza will have adequate representation,” congress spokesperson Nabil Amr said, avoiding using the word “quota”.

The congress is due to adopt a new political programme and replace some of the top leaders of Fatah. It is only the sixth such conference since the party was founded by Arafat in the late 1950s.

Over the years, Fatah has moved away from the armed struggle but has been losing credibility and strength as peace efforts have failed to produce tangible results.—AFP

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