Abbas was formerly prime minister of the Palestinian Authority [AFP]

Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and a founding member of Fatah, one of the main Palestinian factions, Mahmoud Abbas is a former school teacher who has led Palestine during the hardest of times.

Also known as Abu Mazen, Abbas became president of the PA in 2005 following the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004.

Abbas was known as a moderate who would engage in the peace process, after his four month stint as prime minister from May 2003.

But his presidency has been hampered by significant internal and external difficulties, leaving him isolated.

After the Palestinian group Hamas defeated Fatah in parliamentary elections in 2006 and subsequently took complete control of the Gaza Strip, divisions between the pair have become ever more fraught.

While Israel has attacked Hamas militarily and politically, Abbas, whose Fatah rules the occupied West Bank, has attempted to work with the Israelis for peace.

This has led to criticism of Abbas for alleged weaknesses.

Abbas, who studied law, was born in 1935 in Galilee in Palestine - now northern Israel - while it was under British control.

He has lived in exile in Syria, Qatar, Jordan, Tunisia and Lebanon.

Before becoming PLO president, Abbas worked as head of the group's national and international relations in the 1980s and undertook a security role in the 1970s.

Known as an intellectual and pragmatist, he is said to have been a key player in initiating the talks that led to the Oslo peace accords between the Palestinians and Israel in 1993.

He has written numerous books and is married to Amina Abbas, with whom he has three sons.

Source: Al Jazeera