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Palestinians deride Abbas feud with ex-Fatah official

RAMALLAH, West Bank – When Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, returned to his headquarters here late last week after a quick trip for talks in Washington, the welcome-home reception featuring waving flags, a marching band and posters with his portrait seemed like a forced attempt to boost the spirits of an embattled leader.

Supporters say Abbas is facing intense Israeli and American pressure to compromise on some core Palestinian principles and to agree to extend peace talks beyond next month. That pressure, they say, comes even as he contends with his Palestinian rivals in the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, and deals with cracks in the Arab world’s support for the Palestinians.

But some of Abbas’ current difficulties are of his own making. Palestinians say they are baffled by Abbas’ decision to open up another front within his own Fatah movement by beginning a nasty, public campaign against a onetime ally who Abbas now sees as a rival, Muhammad Dahlan, a former Gaza strongman and Fatah security chief.

In the two weeks since Abbas’ opening salvo against Dahlan, who is living abroad, the Arabic media has been filled with unproved accusations by Abbas about the long-ago killings of prominent Palestinians, and by both men about collaboration with Israel and financial corruption.

Abbas even implied that Dahlan might have had a hand in the mysterious death of Yasser Arafat, the father of the Palestinian cause, in 2004. For the most part, the two camps have not offered detailed responses to all the accusations.

Many Palestinians have characterized the dispute as a shameful airing of dirty laundry that shines an unflattering spotlight on the state of the Palestinian leadership at a critical period in the diplomatic battle for the Palestinians’ future.

“It is ugly,” said Mahdi Abdul Hadi, the director of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, an independent research institute in East Jerusalem. “People are saying: ‘Is this the history of Fatah? Collaborators, corruption and killers – is this us?’ ”

Dahlan, 52, rose from humble beginnings in a Gaza refugee camp to become a powerful figure in the Palestinian Authority who earned the trust of Israel and the United States. Some saw him as a potential successor to Abbas, who is almost 79.

Dahlan initially fell out of favor when Hamas routed the Fatah forces from Gaza in 2007 after a brief factional war. Dahlan was abroad, recovering from knee surgery, at the time.

Then in 2011, amid accusations that Dahlan was working to undermine Abbas, he was expelled from Fatah and effectively banished. He is now based in the United Arab Emirates and is raising funds there and elsewhere to aid Gaza – and, some say, to buy back influence there.

Dahlan declined a request to be interviewed for this article. A spokeswoman cited the delicate timing. Abbas’ aides also have been reticent on the subject.