A statement issued on Wednesday by the office of al-Barghuthi described as inaccurate the claim of Talab al-Saagh, an Arab MP in the Israeli Knesset, about the possibility of al-Barghuthi's withdrawal from the vote.

 

In an interview with Aljazeera, Ahmad Ghunaym a member of the Fatah revolutionary council and head of the al-Barghuthi election campaign said:

"All letters we have received from al-Barghuthi during the past days have affirmed his insistence on contesting the election.

 

"This will keep alive the spirit of the intifada," he said, adding that al-Barghuthi's insistence was not for personal reasons.

 

"He thinks that nominating himself for the Palestinian presidency will aid the intifada."

No split

 

Ghunaym ruled out any split in Fatah over al-Barghuthi's decision.

 

Abbas's victory is assured if
al-Barghuthi quits race

Meanwhile, in Amman, Mamun Asaad al-Timimi, a member of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) said members of the PNC in Jordan did not support former prime minister Mahmud Abbas's candidacy for the presidential election.

 

Al-Barghuti's denial was sparked by a statement from a Fatah official that al-Barghuthi, who is in jail in Israel, would quit the presidential race if his political demands were met by his election rival Mahmud Abbas.

   

A withdrawal by al-Barghuthi, a popular grass-roots figure in the Palestinian uprising, would end a simmering political crisis and all but assure victory for Abbas, a moderate favoured by Israel and Washington as a potential peacemaker.

   

The two are running neck-and-neck in opinion polls for the 9 January ballot for a successor to Yasir Arafat.

 

Conditions

 

According to the senior Fatah official, al-Barghuthi's conditions for exiting the race were a pledge from Abbas to put on his agenda demands for a just solution to the refugee problem, Israel's release of Palestinian prisoners and a halt to arrests and killings of resistance fighters.

   

Israeli forces must quit West
Bank for good, says al-Barghuthi

He was also said to have wanted Abbas to insist that Israel pull back forces from the West Bank before the election and keep them out afterwards, and to halt construction of a vast barrier it is building through occupied territory, the official said.  

 

"If Abbas agrees to adopt these points, Marwan will withdraw and an announcement will be made very soon," the senior official said as al-Barghuthi came under intense pressure from the dominant Fatah movement to abandon his election bid.

   

Abbas, on a visit to Lebanon, insisted he was not pressuring al-Barghuthi to quit the race. "No one has the right to force him to do something he doesn't want to," he said.

 

Grassroots leader

   

Al-Barghuthi, 45, part of a younger generation of grassroots leaders who grew up under Israeli occupation and are now seeking greater clout and political reforms, announced his candidacy as an independent last week, days after ruling it out.

   

"I am not like those who entered Fatah barefoot and now possess millions [of dollars] and own companies"

Marwan al-Barghuthi

Since then, he has faced threats from the old guard of Fatah to expel him from the movement he served as West Bank chief before his arrest in 2002.

   

In a letter to his supporters, al-Barghuthi said he had a "heavy heart about harming the unity and strength of Fatah" but voiced resentment at the negative reaction to his candidacy.

   

"I am not like those who entered Fatah barefoot and now possess millions [of dollars] and own companies," he wrote, pointing the finger at officials who used their political positions to enrich themselves.