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Abbas accused of ‘verbally assaulting’ leading PFLP member at PLO meeting

July 24, 2017 5:23 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 5, 2017 1:26 P.M.)
Member of the PFLP's politburo Omar Shihada
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been accused of “verbally assaulting” a senior member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) at a recent meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) Executive Committee and Fatah's Central Committee.

Abbas, who also heads the Palestinian Authority's ruling party Fatah, allegedly verbally attacked Omar Shihada at the meeting, according to a statement released Monday by fellow PFLP politburo member Rabah Muhanna, who also said the president's bodyguard attempted to physically attack Shihada.

Gaza-based new outlet Palestine Today cited a source "close to the Palestinian leadership" as saying that a heated argument broke out between the president and Shihada after the president "skipped" PFLP members when it was their turn to talk during the meeting.

Shihada protested and asked "why are we being denied our right to talk when it's our turn according to the schedule of the meeting?" to which Abbas reportedly replied: "Shut up! It's not you who determines who will talk." Shihada, according to Palestine Today, answered "you shut up! You should comply with the rules."

Abbas then responded with a "repulsive" phrase, according to the report, which also alleged that one of the president's bodyguards hit Shihada on the shoulder while other people in attendance tried to calm the situation. Shihada then reportedly threw a bottle of water at the bodyguard.

"I condemn this unbrotherly behavior by the president and his bodyguard, which indicates that President Abu Mazen is trying to govern singlehandedly and suppress all dissenting opinions," Muhanna wrote in his statement, referring to the 82-year-old president by his teknonym.

According to Muhanna, Shihada responded “appropriately” to the verbal and attempted physical assault.

"Such unacceptable behavior by the president has happened repeatedly recently," the PFLP leader said, alleging that Abbas had also recently "verbally assaulted" PFLP-affiliated Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) member Khalida Jarrar.

Jarrar has since been detained by the Israeli army and sentenced to administrative detention, internment without trial or charge, due to her “activities” within the PFLP, which Israel considers to be a terrorist organization.

"The PFLP reiterates that we will continue to work towards bringing an end to intra-Palestinian disputes and towards supporting the uprising in Jerusalem, despite all of the unacceptable behavior against us," Muhanna continued.

When Shihada attends PLO Executive Committee meetings, Muhanna added, he does so to represent the PFLP, adding that "we will never accept any assault against him from anyone whatsoever."

The Hamas movement, a Palestinian faction that is not represented at the PLO, released a statement on Monday “expressing deep sorrow and denouncement over the behavior of the PA's president and his bodyguard towards comrade Shihada.” The leftist PLO faction commonly and affectionately refers to its members as “comrades.”

“They swore at him using repulsive phrases and they assaulted him and tried to prevent him from talking,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum wrote.

He reiterated Muhanna’s criticism that Abbas, who has been president since 2005, was taking an “exclusionary” approach to governing, which was particularly regrettable given that Palestinians had entered a “historic stage” and “should unite and close ranks in order to counter the Israeli occupation's plans and projects against Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

"This behavior exposes that the rhetoric Abbas used in his latest speech regarding unity, reconciliation, and the protection of people's interests was patently false," Barhum concluded.

Both the Fatah-led PA and Hamas movement, the de facto ruling party in the besieged Gaza Strip, called for Palestinian national unity on Sunday amid ongoing protests over increased Israeli security measures at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem.

While Abbas said he decided to cut all ties with Israel over the Al-Aqsa crisis, multiple unconfirmed reports have cast doubts over the seriousness of Abbas’ announcement.

The PA has been the focus of fierce condemnation in recent months, particularly for its security coordination with Israel, as well as accusations that it has deliberately pushed the impoverished Gaza Strip further into a humanitarian catastrophe in order to wrest control of the territory from Hamas.

A recent public opinion poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed that 62 percent of the Palestinian public want president Abbas to resign -- 55 percent of people in the West Bank and 75 percent of people in the Gaza Strip.
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