BETHLEHEM - The death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the election of new Fatah delegates took center stage on the second day of the Fatah congress being held in Bethlehem.
During Wednesday evening's panel at the congress, some delegates voiced criticism of the movement's leadership for not insisting on launching an investigation into Arafat's death.
Despite controversial statements made prior to the congress by senior Fatah member Farouk Kaddoumi that indicated Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as responsible for Arafat's death, no accusations were leveled at any specific movement member during the congress.
Also on the agenda of Wednesday's discussions was the manner in which Fatah delegates are to be elected. Because many of the party's delegates from the Gaza Strip were barred by Hamas from attending the congress, it was suggested that a separate vote may be held for residents of the Strip so as not to give priority to the delegates who were able to reach Bethlehem.
The sixth congress is being held on the backdrop of Hamas' attempts to prevent Gaza residents affiliated with Fatah from taking part in it, following a demand that 1,000 Hamas members jailed in the PA would be released.
Palestinian media have reported, however, that several activists managed to flee the Strip to the West Bank on donkeys, by sea, land and perhaps even air.
However, it seemed on Wednesday as though the congress is nonetheless moving toward holding elections for the general panel of delegates. This will significantly damage the Gaza Strip candidates. The issue will most likely be decided upon on Thursday when the various candidates will be presented.
'We chose peace, but opposition still legitimate'
Former Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia on Tuesday morning launched the historic Fatah congress.
"In the name of the shahidim (martyrs) and in the name of Jerusalem, the capital of the Palestinian state, we hereby declare the opening of the sixth congress of our movement, the Fatah movement," Qureia said, standing next to Abbas.
The Palestinian president, who is seeking to bolster his status and leadership, lashed out at the start of the meeting against "the princes of darkness, who are dividing the homeland and the people and harming democracy, by preventing Fatah members from joining the conference." He was referring to Hamas members in the Gaza Strip.
Abbas noted that the Fatah movement had led the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Palestinian national struggle, "the same PLO which Hamas tried to eliminate, just like others in the past have tried. But the PLO will continue to exist until our state is established."
The Palestinian president went on to slam Israel, "which is denying all of its commitments."
According to Abbas, the understandings reached by the sides with an American guarantee included all of east Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and parts of the Dead Sea located within the West Bank.
"But now the Israelis are trying to deny this and create a reality in Jerusalem, claiming that Jerusalem is united under their sovereignty," he said.
"Although we have chosen peace, we maintain the right to launch an armed resistance, which is legitimate as far as international law is concerned."