- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Moustapha Barghouti, a candidate to succeed the late Yasser Arafat as Palestinian Authority president, has accused Israel of providing an advantage to the leading contender in next month’s election, former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

“The Israelis allow Mr. Abbas to travel freely through the Gaza Strip and into hard-to-reach zones, while, unfairly, I and other candidates get stopped at checkpoints and cannot even get in to Gaza,” he complained.

Mr. Barghouti, who is distantly related to imprisoned dissident and former candidate Marwan Barghouti, made headlines last week when he said he and five colleagues had been forced to the ground, screamed at and hit by Israeli soldiers.

The beating, he said, was in response to their refusal to submit to routine procedures at a checkpoint on the grounds that no presidential candidate should be searched.

Mr. Abbas, who recently was elected as the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to succeed Mr. Arafat, publicly has urged an end to the Palestinians’ violent uprising and is considered a potential peace partner by Israel and the United States.

A critic of the Palestinian leadership’s human rights record and its monopoly of power, Mr. Barghouti told The Washington Times that his presidential election campaign has been boosted substantially by this weekend’s withdrawal of Marwan Barghouti.

Marwan Barghouti, who spent years in an Israeli prison as a hard-line student leader and speaks fluent Hebrew, technically remains the leader of the dominant Fatah movement in the West Bank. However, he is imprisoned in Israel, serving five life sentences for murder.

“Polls show I should pick up substantial segments of Marwan’s vote — which would constitute a protest against the easy ride being given to Mahmoud Abbas,” Moustapha Barghouti said.

He believes voters are disillusioned with the complacency and corruption of the old guard that he says is represented by Mr. Abbas.

Despite a falling-out last year with Mr. Arafat, Mr. Abbas has been the long-serving secretary-general of the PLO and was one of Mr. Arafat’s longtime fellow leaders in the Fatah revolutionary movement that they founded in the 1960s.

Mr. Barghouti said he had been in discussions with his imprisoned relative through Marwan Barghouti’s supporters and wife, Fadwa.

Announcing his withdrawal, Marwan Barghouti declared his support for his “old and dear friend” Mr. Abbas.

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