His main asset is his grassroots support, derived from a genuine attachment to sentiment on the Palestinian street.

Through the Palestinians' acceptance in the Oslo Accords of a state on a quarter of the land they once inhabited to the effective breakdown of the agreement during the ongoing intifada, al-Barghuthi's stand has never failed to chime with public opinion.

His whole life has been characterised by an unswerving dedication to the Palestinian cause.

Born in the West Bank city of Ram Allah on 6 June 1958 al-Barghuthi spent his formative years at the nearby Bir Zeit University.

His early political training came during the Palestinian Liberation Organisation's enforced exile in Tunis in the 1980's when al-Barghuthi worked as its liaison officer.

He was imprisoned for his role in the first intifada (1987-1992), and then deported to Jordan. But he continued to direct the uprising from across the border. 

Following the 1993 Oslo Accords he returned to his homeland and took over as secretary general of Fatah in the West Bank, the dominant group in the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Oslo-sceptic

His popularity on the street was confirmed when he won a seat on the Palestinian Legislative Council standing as an independent candidate, though Arafat ensured that he was not on the Fatah-Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) list.

Marwan al-Barghuthi after being
sentenced to five life terms

Enjoying good relations with all Palestinian factions, al-Barghuthi was critical of the centralisation of power under Arafat and his public condemnation of Palestinian Authority corruption made him unpopular in some circles.

"In the past Fatah earned its right to lead the Palestinian national movement by virtue of the armed struggle of its fighters and the blood of its martyrs, now we have a Palestinian National Authority on Palestinian soil we must earn our legitimacy from the democratic choice of its people," he said. 

Al-Barghuthi's scepticism of the Oslo Accords and of Israel as an honest negotiator won him greater popularity among the Palestinian masses.

He considers any Palestinian who bargains over the 1967 borders a traitor, and believes that this issue may lead to the destruction of the Palestinian people.

A pragmatist, he also believes that a permanent solution to the Middle East conflict can be found only if the mediator is changed. According to him, the US is too close to Israel to be an honest broker.

Assassination attempt

Al-Barghuthi was also a prominent leader of the al-Aqsa intifada which erupted in September 2000 triggering Israel to demand his extradition.

An attempt to assassinate him was made on 4 August 2001.

''The intifada will triumph''

Al-Barghuthi

A month later, a warrant for his arrest was issued for organising attacks and for conspiracy to murder.

Al-Barghuthi was arrested in a raid by Israeli security forces in March 2002. 

Israeli prosecutors were trying to link him to a spate of bomb blasts and charged him for the deaths of 26 Israelis and for being a member of a ''banned organisation''.

In August 2002 he charged the state of Israel for gross human rights violations on behalf of the Palestinian people, including violations of numerous UN resolutions.

While in custody he was instrumental in persuading all Palestinian factions to agree a unilateral truce with Israel. 

Five life sentences

On 22 June 2004, al-Barghuthi was convicted of playing a role in three shootings: Of a Christian monk in the West Bank in 2001, an Israeli near the Givat Zeev settlement in the West Bank in 2002 and three people at a Tel Aviv restaurant in 2002.

He was given five life sentences on charges of involvement in incidents resulting in five Israeli deaths on 6 June 2004.

He was also convicted on one count of attempted murder for a botched car bombing at a Jerusalem mall and a separate count of belonging to a ''banned organisation'', for which he was sentenced to two 20-year terms.

The other 21 charges of murder were dropped due to insufficient evidence. While leaving the court he chanted ''the intifada will triumph'' and rejected the authority of the court.

Human rights organisations have reported that al-Barghuthi has been tortured in prison.