Terror-group founder to lead Abbas' party?

Plan in works to release, empower imprisoned intifada plotter

Aaron Klein - WorldNetDaily.com - February 10, 2006

JERUSALEM He's a convicted murderer, founder of one of the most deadly terror groups in the Middle East and the confessed plotter of the Palestinian intifada that began in 2000, killing 993 Israelis and 3,781 Palestinians so far.

And if senior Palestinian officials speaking to WND have their way, he will this summer become the next leader of the long-ruling Fatah party, presented as a "moderate" to be released from Israeli jail to counterbalance the rise to power of Hamas. Meet Marwan Barghouti.

"I demand Marwan be released. I believe he will contribute to the revival of Fatah. ... He stands a good chance at leading the party," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told WND yesterday, one day after meeting with Barghouti in an Israeli prison.

Barghouti, now a member of the Palestinian parliament, is serving multiple life terms for his role in killing five Israeli civilians. He is founder of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a terror group that has carried out scores of suicide bombings, deadly shooting attacks and hundreds of rocket firings at Jewish communities near Gaza. There is information the group is looking to fire rockets from the West Bank.

Barghouti successfully ran in last month's Palestinian elections, stressing as part of his election platform his efforts in killing Israelis and planning the intifada, which still is raging.

According to multiple polls, Barghouti enjoys widespread Palestinian support and is favored as a potential Palestinian Authority president.

Erekat and other senior Palestinian officials told WND Fatah for the first time in nearly 20 years will be holding a meeting of the party's executive congress this July with the specific purpose of electing a new leader.

Fatah's political bureau is headed by Farouk Kadumi, a party founder and longtime Arafat deputy. Fatah officials say Barghouti is expected to easily win the congressional election, and afterwards, they say he will be positioned as a candidate in the next PA presidential elections, scheduled for 2009. Some say he might immediately replace current PA president Mahmoud Abbas.

The Fatah congress last held a vote for party leader in the late 1980s. Analysts speculated then-party chairman Arafat was reluctant to hold another meeting for fear of diluting his power.

Barghouti boasts enormous support from Fatah leaders, particularly those considered part of the younger generation, including Fatah strongmen Jibril Rajoub and Mohammed Dahlan. Also, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terror group, a military offshoot of Fatah, considers Barghouti its leader, multiple Brigades members told WND.

Even some leaders of Fatah's so-called old guard support Barghouti.

"He has all our support," Erekat said.

After the Fatah congressional session is held this summer, a massive campaign to free Barghouti from Israeli prison will be launched, Palestinian officials told WND. The campaign will include Palestinian, Israeli and European personalities, the officials said.

"All the polls show Marwan is the most popular and authentic leader of the Palestinian people," Barghouti's wife, spokesman and attorney Fadwa Barghouti told WND during an exclusive interview to be released in full this weekend.

She says her husband enjoys international support.

"I visited 26 states, most of them in the West on the invitation of their local parliaments," Fadwa Barghouti said. "We met with many international seniors who expressed their support to release Marwan. We have in all these countries committees who act for the release of Marwan. As for the U.S., we have American lawyers who are part of our international campaign for my husband's release."

Even the United States reportedly is involved in boosting Barghouti. Prior to last month's Palestinian elections, Israel granted Barghouti permission to speak to the international and pan-Arab media, reportedly after the U.S. applied pressure.

Fatah originally wanted to hold the congressional session at which Barghouti is expected to be elected at an earlier date. But sources close to Fatah told WND the U.S. and Egypt asked Fatah officials to delay the session until after the Israeli elections next month for fear a Barghouti campaign might harm interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Kadima Party's chances at the polls.

Even some Israeli officials and leftist Jewish organizations favor Barghouti's ascension to power and release from prison, arguing the convicted terrorist can lead peace negotiations.

"While violence is escalating, the release of Barghouti can create a new dynamic for peace and save the lives of Israelis and Palestinians. Release him now!" stated a recent ad in Israel's Haaretz newspaper sponsored by the extreme leftist Gush Shalom Peace Bloc.

Interior Minister Avraham Poraz, Kadima member Meir Sheetrit and far-leftist Israeli lawmaker Yossi Beilin, among other Israeli officials, have speculated Barghouti might be released to counterbalance Hamas' election to Palestinian parliament last month by a large majority.

Barghouti's past is filled with anti-Israel violence. He has been arrested several times, including a four-year stint that began in 1978 for planning terror attacks against Israelis. He was arrested again in 1985 before being deported to Jordan in 1987, where Israel says he played a key role in starting the first Palestinian intifada.

Barghouti was among hundreds of Palestinian deportees allowed to return to the West Bank upon the signature of the Palestinian-Israeli interim Oslo peace accords in 1993.

Israel says he continued to plot and carry out attacks, later founding the Brigades along with Arafat, and planning the intifada launched after Arafat turned down at Camp David in 2000 an offer of a state in the Gaza Strip, most of the West Bank and sections of Jerusalem.

Officially, the Israeli government says it is opposed to releasing Barghouti.

There have been reports, particularly in the Arab media, of a prisoner exchange deal that would involve the U.S. releasing imprisoned Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard in return for Israel freeing Barghouti.

Al-Arabiya, one of the largest Arab satellite networks, has been editorializing for a Pollard-Barghouti deal.

Fadwa Barghouti claimed she did not have any information on the issue.

"The release of Marwan is in itself a very positive point," she said. "It would be a possibility for Israel to show its good intentions; that they really do want to make peace. I don't want to connect the release of Marwan with anything else."

Pollard worked as a U.S. Navy intelligence analyst and was convicted in 1985 of one count of passing classified information to an ally, Israel, and sentenced to life imprisonment in spite of a plea agreement that was to spare him a life sentence.

Pollard previously told WND he was opposed to being released alongside Barghouti.

But Barghouti says he is confident he will be released soon.

In an interview this past summer with Israel's leading newspaper, Yediot Ahronoth, Barghouti, speaking from his prison cell, boasted, "By the end of this year, I will be out of here."

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