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Palestinian congress to meet for 1st time in 20 years

Aug. 27, 2015 2:35 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 3, 2015 5:04 P.M.)
A Palestinian flag pictured at a non-violent protest in the occupied West Bank.(MaanImages/Anna Kokko)
RAMALLAH (AFP) -- Palestinian leaders have set September 15-16 as the dates for their first congress in nearly 20 years after President Mahmoud Abbas announced his resignation as head of a top PLO executive body.

The meeting of the Palestinian National Council (PNC), the PLO congress representing those in occupied Palestinian territory and the diaspora, is to be held in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

"It has been decided to ask the Palestine National Council to convene for a session on the upcoming 15th and 16th September in Ramallah," senior Palestinian official Azzam al-Ahmad told AFP.

"The council’s agenda includes electing a new executive committee for the (Palestine Liberation Organization)."

Ahmad said the congress would also discuss the stalemate in peace talks with Israel, among other issues.

Abbas's allies say his recent moves are part of efforts to inject new blood in the Palestinian leadership.

Critics, however, argue that Abbas is maneuvering to empower his allies and marginalize opponents ahead of the 80-year-old's eventual retirement.

Abbas' Fatah party and Hamas, the movement that runs the Gaza Strip, remain deeply divided.

Separate, indirect contacts are said to have occurred recently between Israel and Hamas on a long-term truce.

Abbas resigned last week as head of the PLO's Executive Committee in a bid to force new elections for the top body.

His resignation along with a number of others from the 18-member committee will only take effect with a meeting of the PNC.

Hamas belongs to neither the PLO nor the 740-member PNC, the top legislative body of the Palestinians and which has not met since 1996.

Some observers see chief PLO negotiator and Abbas ally Saeb Erekat as a potential successor to the veteran leader.

Before the resignations were announced last week, the executive committee elected Erekat as its secretary general.

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