Claims That Abbas Plotted With Israel to Kill Arafat Roil Fatah

New rifts have emerged within Fatah on the eve of the movement's much-delayed congress, planned for August 4, in Bethlehem.

This will be Fatah's first congress in 20 years, and one of its main purposes is to choose a new leadership for the movement.

Farouk Kaddoumi, a Fatah founder currently living in Tunis, accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and former Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan of collaborating with Israel and the United States to assassinate former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, as well as Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders.

The remarks by Kaddoumi, Fatah Central Committee secretary general, at a press conference he convened in Amman, Jordan on Tuesday provoked furious responses from Fatah officials allied with Abbas. Kaddoumi said he was in possession of the minutes of a secret meeting held in 2004 among prime minister Ariel Sharon, defense minister Shaul Mofaz, U.S. envoy William J. Burns, Abbas and Dahlan, at which the officials spoke of assassinating the Palestinian figures.

Kaddoumi became one of Arafat's fiercest critics after the Palestinian leader signed the 1993 Oslo Accords with Israel. He was subsequently distanced from the central decision-making apparatus, and in recent years his influence in the movement has waned.

The Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee yesterday called Kaddoumi's claims "hysterical and sick" and said they were motivated by a desire to thwart the upcoming Fatah congress.

"This is manipulation and delusion from a sick man who has lost all of his judgment," Fatah officials close to Abbas said. A statement released by Fatah and the PLO in the West Bank said the organizations are considering taking measures against Kaddoumi for his "unacceptable" remarks.

Fatah officials said Abbas's decision to hold the conference in Bethlehem rather than a neighboring Arab state displeased certain factions within the movement, particularly those whose members are not authorized to enter the Palestinian Authority or who refuse to enter in protest against the Oslo Accords.

Kaddoumi said Abbas's choice of Bethlehem was a deliberate attempt to keep out his rivals out of the inner circle of decision making, to enable the conference to adopt an agenda favorable to Abbas. Associates of the Palestinian president dismissed the criticism, adding that after discussing a variety of matters on the agenda the congress would adopt a resolution opposing Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank.