They said on Friday that Qurie had sent a letter to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, to say that he wanted the elections postponed and that he opposed a plan to merge two rival lists of candidates from the ruling Fatah movement.

Fatah's governing body decided at a meeting chaired by Abbas late on Thursday to fuse the two lists into one, headed by Marwan Barghuti, the jailed intifada leader.

The compromise has, however, left the old guard accusing party leaders of kow-towing to the young guard embodied by Barghuti, Fatah sources said on Friday.

By virtue of the compromise, outgoing Fatah deputies and ministers, as well as members of its governing body, must stand for election in constituencies rather than fight it out for top places on a proportional representation list.

On 25 January, around 1.3 million Palestinian voters will be eligible to elect 134 MPs, half chosen from the central list and half elected directly in constituencies throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Veteran politician

Qurie's letter said he wanted to withdraw as a candidate. He was not immediately available for comment.

Qurie had to resign as prime minister under a law that stipulates that candidates for election cannot hold official posts.

The Fatah's old guard are being
challenged by a new generation

He is part of a veteran generation from the time of Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian leader, that is being challenged within Fatah by younger leaders who are seeking a bigger share of power and are seen by many Palestinians as less tainted by corruption.

A former peace negotiator with Israel, Qurie was appointed by Arafat in 2003.

The two Fatah lists - one drawn up by the party leadership and the other named Future by young supporters campaigning for change - were registered with the electoral committee to run in the polls.

Aware of his popularity, both camps chose Barghuti to lead their respective lists although he had chosen to stick with Future, dominated by his young supporters.

Barghuti factor

Barghuti has remained an MP despite having been handed five life sentences by an Israeli court last year but Palestinian electoral law does not allow a candidate to figure on two separate lists.

The divisions within Fatah and Israel's decision not to allow any voting in occupied and annexed east Jerusalem have raised speculation of a possible postponement.

However, the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, headed by Abbas, pledged on Thursday "its total commitment to holding the elections on the scheduled date".