2004Edition>News Center>World

Almost 400 members of Arafat's Fatah quit
Updated: 2004-02-08 10:36

Nearly 400 members of Yasser Arafat's ruling Fatah Party resigned Saturday to protest what they call corruption and bad leadership within the group.

The mass resignation is the latest example of long-standing friction between the younger members of the Palestinians' main political force and the old guard who accompanied Arafat back to the West Bank and Gaza Strip from exile in the early 1990s. The 400 ex-Fatah members were from the party's lower ranks, and none were prominent officials in the movement.

The former members, in a letter to Arafat and other movement leaders, said they were angry over corruption, mismanagement and a lack of direction in how the party handles the Israeli conflict.

At the fore of the dispute are elections for the party's governing bodies and charges that leaders have ignored calls to hold a vote for fear of losing power. Party procedure calls for elections every five years, but none has taken place since 1989.

While there are hundreds of thousands of Fatah members, the resignation of almost 400 needs to be taken seriously, said Hatem Abdul Khader, a prominent young Fatah lawmaker.

"Most of the signatories are unknown, but this document should indicate to the leadership about how much we need reform," he said.

Fatah's current leaders have repeatedly put off holding elections. Fatah's young activists say veteran leaders are merely afraid of losing their privileged positions.

"Fatah, as it stands today, is leading us toward tribalism, internal conflict and a bottomless pit," the statement said.

Fatah Cabinet minister Qadoura Fares downplayed the resignations. "The issues that were brought up in the statement are not new," he said.

But Abdul Khader, the young lawmaker, said the petition — which some view as a direct challenge to Arafat — forces Fatah to take the accusations seriously.

"The whispers for reform have become a shout," he said. "Fatah cannot ignore this anymore."

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