Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction on Wednesday chose a deputy party leader but it was unclear whether Mahmoud Al-Aloul would also be favorite to succeed him as president.
Aloul, for years a close Abbas confidant, has clout among the party's grassroots and had a military background. He is the first deputy leader appointed since Fatah's founding in the 1960s by former Palestinian president, Yasser Arafat.
The 18-member Fatah Central Committee's vote to elect a deputy to Abbas came after protracted debate.
Fatah is the largest and most influential group in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the backbone of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority.
The media-shy Aloul, 67, served as the head of Fatah's militant wing, the Tanzim, as te governor of the West Bank Palestinian city of Nablus for 10 years and as minister of labor but he is not the deputy leader of the Palestinian Authority and is therefore not seen as a certain successor as president to the 81-year-old Abbas.
Aloul was a commander who led Fatah forces that fought Israel in Lebanon and were responsible for abducting eight Israeli soldiers there in 1983.
In 1988 his responsibilities over the then Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip and the West Bank were expanded after the assassination of Khalil Al-Wazir (Abu Jihad) by Israeli commandos in Tunis.
Meanwhile, Jibril Rajoub, the former head of the Palestinian Preventive Security Force in the West Bank, was elected as Fatah's secretary-general.
This is a blow to Rajoub, who expected to be appointed Abbas's deputy himself and now has to settle for the third most important job, after Abbas and Aloul.
A Fatah official told Ynet that Abbas does not like having people who are too strong and popular around him, which is why he preferred not to have Rajoub as his deputy.
Rajoub has gotten popular among the Palestinians in recent years because of his role as the head of the Palestinian Football Association and the Palestine Olympic Committee.
Another person who expected to be chosen as Abbas's deputy is former Tanzim head Marwan Barghouti, who is serving a life sentence in Israel for his involvement in the murder of Israelis during the second intifada.