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Abbas allies hit out at party rival's "lies"

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Supporters of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have dismissed allegations that he once plotted against his late predecessor Yasser Arafat, calling the accusations a smear campaign to wreck party unity.

“This report is full of lies,” the Central Committee of the Fatah party said in a statement on its website on Tuesday, referring to allegations made by Farouq al-Qadoumi, the Committee’s own general secretary.

“Qadoumi is trying to split Fatah and prevent the holding of the 6th Congress,” the Central Committee added in the statement, referring to plans to hold a much delayed party assembly in the West Bank on August 4, the first such congress in 20 years.

A Fatah official loyal to Abbas, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that on Sunday Qadoumi had given journalists in Jordan copies of a report purportedly revealing a plot between Abbas and Israeli leaders to kill Arafat in the year before Arafat’s death in November 2004.

Qadoumi, who is based in Tunis, could not be reached for comment. He has long been a critic of Abbas. Tunis was the base for Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Fatah, its dominant component, before interim peace accords with Israel saw Arafat, Abbas and others end their exile in the 1990s.

Since his election after the death of Arafat, who dominated Palestinian politics for decades, Abbas has struggled to maintain his authority. Fatah lost a 2006 parliamentary election to the Islamist movement Hamas, which rejects the accords with Israel. A year later, Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip.

That schism has hamstrung Abbas’s efforts to pursue peace negotiations with Israel. And Fatah itself has also been riven by factional divisions.

There have been bitter arguments over whether and where to hold the first party congress since 1989.

It is now set for August 4 in Bethlehem. But some, like Qadoumi, argue it should not be held in the West Bank while Israel’s occupation continues and should take place abroad, like all the previous congresses.

Reporting by Ali Sawafta, Writing by Alastair Macdonald, Editing by Robin Pomeroy