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Jailed leader will seek Palestinian presidency

Marwan Barghouti is shown in this 2001 file photo.
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Marwan Barghouti
Yasser Arafat
Middle East

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- From an Israeli prison, popular Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti reversed his decision Wednesday about seeking elected office and submitted his name to become a candidate to succeed the late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

An official with the Fatah movement, the largest party in the Palestinian Authority, said Barghouti submitted 5,000 signatures and $3,000 to the Palestinian Authority Election Commission to qualify as an independent candidate in the January 9 election.

Barghouti's candidacy could create major problems for former Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who is the Fatah movement's presidential candidate.

Barghouti has repeatedly ranked second only to Arafat in popularity polls. (Profile)

The jailed leader's candidacy threatens to split Fatah.

Last week, Barghouti said he would seek the office but then announced he would not run and urged Palestinians to back Abbas. There was no immediate word on why Barghouti changed his mind.

His decision came just hours after the radical Palestinian group Hamas announced it will not participate in the Palestinian presidential elections or present a candidate.

Senior Hamas leader Ismail Hanieh, in a news conference in Gaza City, stopped short of calling for the public to boycott the election, but he said he expected Hamas members to abide by the leadership's decision.

The Associated Press reported Hamas planned the boycott because the election did not include legislative and municipal elections.

The news agency also reported that the organization's lack of participation could call the legitimacy of the election into question, although Hamas has said it will honor its outcome. Hamas has tens of thousands of supporters, the AP reported, with a strong following in Gaza.

Imprisoned leader

The Israeli army apprehended Barghouti in April 2002 in Ramallah on charges he planned or participated in lethal attacks on Israelis.

In June of this year, an Israeli court sentenced Barghouti to five consecutive life terms and an additional 40 years in prison for his role in attacks that killed five Israelis.

The Palestinian Authority said it didn't recognize the jurisdiction of the Israeli court in the Barghouti case and called its decision "illegal and void." Israeli officials have said they will not release him from prison.

Israel accused Barghouti of heading several militant groups in the West Bank, including the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant offshoot of Arafat's Fatah movement.

Israel also says Barghouti took orders from Arafat and is not the political activist he claimed to be.

A charismatic figure, Barghouti is considered the leader among younger Palestinians who have gained prominence during the two Palestinian uprisings, or intifadas, against Israel.

During his time in Israeli jails, Barghouti taught himself Hebrew and has appeared on Israeli television. While Israel has accused him of terrorism, Barghouti also has called for a peaceful settlement with Israel.

Election preparation

In recent days, Israel has pledged to ease conditions to make it easier for Palestinians to hold elections.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said although Israel still wants the Palestinian Authority to crack down on terror, a first step in the international road map to a Middle East peace, that will take time.

In the meantime, Sharon asked for Palestinian leaders to curb public incitement against Israelis in schools and in the Palestinian media. Subsequently, Palestinian broadcasters have backed off their attacks against Israel.

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