Fatah was rocked on Saturday by the publication of a petition "signed" by about 300 activists who said they were quitting in protest at a lack of reforms.

  

The signatories condemned the movement for "not responding to appeals for reform" and denounced "sectarianism and internal conflicts".

  

However, a number of the activists whose names appeared on the petition denied in letters to the press on Monday they had ever put pen to paper while Fatah officials said some of the names were fictitious.

  

But the letter has struck a raw nerve within the ranks of the movement founded by Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat nearly 40 years ago, amid growing frustration at the levels of corruption and government incompetence.

 

Worrying

  

"Most of the names are unknown but it is still an important and worrying document," one senior Fatah official said on Monday, on condition of anonymity.

  

Some senior members of the movement sought to downplay its significance and said the letter was the work of agent provocateurs.

 

Fatah plagued by divisions at
leadership level

Amin Maqbul, the movement's acting secretary-general in the West Bank, accused unnamed elements of "exploiting the current situation and the Egyptian demands to stir up ill-feeling" by publishing the document.

  

A senior Palestinian official said last week Egypt was putting pressure on Arafat to push through "radical" reforms within Fatah.

  

Cairo made the request as part of its ongoing efforts "to break the impasse and re-launch negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians," the official said.

 

"The style of this petition is defamatory and members of Fatah cannot be the originators," said Maqbul.

 

Link

 

Qadura Faris, minister without portfolio in the new Palestinian cabinet, ruled out any link between the petition and the Egyptian demands.

  

Faris, who is seen as one of the new generation of Fatah leaders, said the petition could have been drawn up by members "working behind the scenes".

  

"Any serious action within any organisation or party should be initiated by people acting publicly and without hesitation. This timid initiative does not have any future," Faris said.

 

"The style of this petition is defamatory and members of Fatah cannot be the originators"

Amin Maqbul,
acting secretary-general, Fatah, West Bank unit

But Fatah deputy Muhammad al-Hurani said the petition highlighted the scale of the problems facing the movement.

  

"Regardless of who was behind this, the criticism it contains comes at a moment when we are having a great debate concerning issues more serious than those contained in the text."

  

Fatah is plagued by divisions, confusion and a lack of planning at the leadership level, he said.

  

The problems could only be resolved by holding elections within the movement "to confer our leaders with the legitimacy that will allow them to win the confidence" of the people, said Hurani.

  

Former prime minister Mahmud Abbas' security chief, Muhammad Dahlan, agreed.

  

"The movement is confronted by a major crisis and the ideal solution in my opinion is to have an elected leadership," said Dahlan who was ousted when Fatah co-founder Abbas lost a power struggle with Arafat in September.