Fatah movement re-elects President Abbas as party leader

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President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas unanimously Tuesday won confidence of party members to continue as leader of the Fatah movement founded by historical icon Yasser Arafat.

About 1,400 Fatah delegates took part in the congress.

The Ramallah congress is expected to close ranks around Abbas, the 81-year-old leader of Fatah, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, bolstering his authority without major policy changes.

Abbas is scheduled to deliver a speech in front of the assembly later Tuesday to address the political situation in Palestine with the attendance of representatives from 28 Arab and foreign states.

Rajoub also said the gathering was to provide an opportunity to update the party's structures.

In other comments that could irk Israel, Abbas praised a series of "martyrs" killed in fighting with Israel over the years, including Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of the Islamic military Hamas group.

Palestinian leaders from the West Bank, Gaza Strip and overseas gathered at the Presidential Palace in Ramallah Tuesday for a four-day meeting that will end December 2 with votes to pick members of Fatah's governing bodies, the Central Committee and the Revolutionary Council.

The five-day conference is expected to cement Abbas' control of Fateh and lock out his chief rival, the exiled Mohamed Dahlan.

If that happens, Palestinian officials say it would likely enshrine the nominee as Abbas's designated successor. The vast majority of the attendees at the conference remain supporters of Abbas however.

In 1988, the movement held its fifth congress in Tunisia, where its Central Committee was expanded to include 21 members. While considered a relative moderate in Palestinian politics, Abbas has refused to negotiate with Israel unless its government halts settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Abbas now only governs autonomous areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

"This congress is taking place in a crucial moment in the history of the Palestinian people".

Many worldwide actors, including the United States and the European Union, believe that his vision of a peace deal is becoming less and less likely, as Israel continues its illegal policy of building settlements in Palestinian areas.

At one point, Abbas threatened to withdraw his recognition of Israel, but he gave no details on how he would do so.

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