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Barghouti Drops Out of Palestinian Leadership Race

Barghouti cited pressure from Palestinian officials for his decision.

“Today brother Marwan has decided to stop running as a candidate,” Ahmed Ghanem, Barghouti’s campaign manager, told reporters in Ramallah, the Associated Press reported.

Barghouti, sentenced to five life sentences by an Israeli court for his role in the ongoing intifada, initially declined to run for president and pledged his support for Abbas. But in late November he reversed himself and submitted his name as an independent candidate.

Both Barghouti and Abbas are members of the dominant Fatah movement, which was founded by former president Yasser Arafat who died last month. Palestinians and Fatah leaders worried that Barghouti’s candidacy would divide the movement as well as the Palestinian public.

Barghouti’s decision leaves Abbas, a former prime minister and longtime associate of Arafat, as the only serious candidate in the Palestinian Authority presidential election, scheduled for Jan. 9. Before the withdrawal, opinion polls showed Barghouti to be in a tight race with Abbas for the presidency. The seven other candidates’ public support remains in the single digits, according to polls.

Since Arafat’s death in November, violence between Israelis and Palestinians has continued as foreign diplomats have stepped up efforts to renew peace efforts.

In the worst Palestinian attack in recent months, explosives planted in a tunnel near the Egyptian border and the Gaza strip were detonated Sunday underneath a military checkpoint, killing at least four Israeli soldiers and wounding eight others.

Abbas on Sunday led a Palestinian delegation to Kuwait, the first in a decade, to apologize for Araft’s support of Iraq in the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Arafat sided with the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, harming relations with Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations that provided financial support to the Palestinians.

As leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Arafat also condemned the U.S.-led Gulf War against Iraq, and never visited Kuwait after the invasion.

While briefly serving as prime minister in 2003, Abbas told the state-owned Kuwait News Agency the Palestinian leadership’s position was “incorrect” and he understood why Kuwaitis were “angry and reproachful,” but stopped short of apologizing, AP reported.

Abbas’ apology Sunday was met with praise by the Kuwaiti government, which has expressed desire to reconcile with the new Palestinian leadership. But some lawmakers in Kuwait said in a statement Saturday that they reject the official apology.

“Apology or no apology, (Kuwaitis) don’t want to see the Palestinian leadership in Kuwait. We don’t want anything from them,” the AP quoted Ahmed al-Saadoun, one of the lawmakers who had signed on to the statement, as saying.

The trip marks the end of series of visits to other Arab nations aimed at repairing relations severed under Arafat’s regime. Kuwait, Syria and Lebanon, countries that limited contact with Arafat, expressed a willingness to work with a new Palestinian leadership headed by Abbas.

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