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Marwan Barghouti

The most popular contender among Palestinians to succeed Yasser Arafat is Marwan Barghouti. Palestinian activist leader Marwan Barghouti is a leader of the militant Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which claimed responsibility for suicide attacks against Israel. Barghouti denounced Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Barghouti, a Palestinian politician, was jailed on charges of leading militia movements Fatah's Tanzim and al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade. Barghouti is in jail for directing the Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and having a hand in the killing of at least 26 Israelis. He is currently in an Israeli jail serving five consecutive life sentences for masterminding suicide bombings in Israel. Before his arrest in 2002, he was a major figure in the intifada, and his conviction is seen to have only bolstered his popularity among Palestinians.

The "Intifada elite" -- or new guard -- was born and raised in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and has had a very different life history than its Oslo elders. Members of this group tend to be economically poorer but better educated, and know Israel much more intimately than do those old leaders coming back from exile. Some, like Marwan Barghouti, speak excellent Hebrew.

Barghouti was imprisoned by Israel in the late 1970s for plotting attacks and was later deported. He returned to the West Bank in 1994, after Israel and the PLO reached an accord, and got elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council. But when peacemaking broke down, he was among the first Palestinians to call for a new uprising. Barghouti has said he considers any Israeli in the West Bank and Gaza a legitimate target for attack. In August 2001, Barghouti said Palestinians must use violence. He has also been critical of the Palestinian effort to make peace with Israel. In an often quoted statement, Marwan once said: "We tried seven years of intifada without negotiations, and then seven years of negotiations without intifada; perhaps it is time to try both simultaneously."

The Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade emerged as a mature organization on 12 October 2000, during a paramilitary parade in Nablus, Palestinian Territories. The brigades were "a loose coalition of irregulars, hurriedly trained in basic individual combat and equipped with privately owned small arms. Operatives wore plainclothes and limited their activities to roadside shootings. The growth phase included efforts to create a formal military organization, establish infrastructure, acquire arms, develop tactical leadership, and attract recruits to their secular version of the Hamas suicide squads. Upon maturity, a cell-based structure emerged under the senior command of Marwan Barghouti.

In June 2003 Barghouti orchestrated a provisional Palestinian ceasefire. Palestinian officials said that Hamas, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Islamic Jihad had agreed to a three-month suspension of at-tacks against Israelis. The possibility of a breakthrough raised hopes for some progress toward peace on the 1,000th day of the intifada, the Palestinian uprising against Israel. Palestinian officials said the cease-fire specified that militant groups will halt "all attacks" against Israeli civilians. The tentative truce agreement was circulated among members of the radical groups in Damascus, Syria, and sent to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and Marwan Barghouti, a top leader in Arafat's Fatah movement, the mainstream faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Barghouti and the PA could use his imprisonment much the same as South Africa's Nelson Mandela did to symbolize the struggle of his people.Detractors, however, say that with Barghouti at the helm, Israel could shun him and the PA as it did to Yasser Arafat. Israeli Foreign Minister Sylvan Shalom commented that he wants to see "A moderate Palestinian leadership that is taking the lead and moving towards a full implementation of the "Roadmap" (to Middle East peace)." But, as before, Israel also insists that any successor to Yasser Arafat dismantle terrorist groups and put an end to incitement and violence in the West Bank and Gaza.

On 01 December 2004 Barghouti reversed an earlier decision and entered the race Wednesday for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority, throwing the campaign into turmoil. But on 11 December 2004 Barghouti announced that he was pulling out of the upcoming presidential contest.



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