Palestinian court gives jail term to exiled Fatah official Dahlan

RAMALLAH, West Bank Wed May 21, 2014 9:41am EDT

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RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - A Palestinian court has sentenced an exiled rival of President Mahmoud Abbas to two years in jail for "insulting state institutions", raising pressure on Mohammed Dahlan after months of mutual recriminations.

The ruling was dated March 6, but the verdict was only published in a West Bank newspaper on Tuesday.

Dahlan, who lives in the Gulf, said the court decision was politically motivated and accused Abbas of seeking "to tame the respected Palestinian judiciary" and pursuing a vendetta of "personal hatred" against him.

Once a prominent official in Abbas's Western-backed Fatah movement, Dahlan was ousted from the group in 2011 following accusations of corruption. He always asserted his innocence and remains a powerful figure on the sidelines, seen by supporters as a possible successor to the ageing Abbas.

The court ruling said Palestinian officials, including a top security leader, had accused Dahlan of defamation for what they said was his description of Palestinian security forces in the West Bank as guards serving only to protect Israeli settlers.

The court said Dahlan had also defamed Abbas by accusing him of manipulating the Palestinian Authority, which has limited autonomy in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

It was not immediately clear if the Palestinian government would ask Abu Dhabi to extradite Dahlan, who enjoys relative support in some Arab capitals, including Cairo.

Perhaps concerned by his growing international influence, Abbas launched a scathing attack on Dahlan in March, accusing him of involvement in six murders and hinting he might have been behind the 2004 death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Dahlan hit back in a lengthy interview on Egyptian television, branding Abbas a "catastrophe" for Palestinians.

(Reporting by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Crispian Balmer)

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