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Palestinian Fatah Party Holds First Congress in 20 Years


Palestinian leaders in the West Bank are holding what they describe as a "historic" convention, but there is little harmony in the ranks.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas opened the first congress of the Fatah movement in 20 years and the first ever on Palestinian soil. Mr. Abbas, who rules the West Bank, endorsed the peace process with Israel, but left open the option of "armed struggle."

"Although peace is our choice, we reserve the right to resistance," he told hundreds of delegates.

A banner at the gathering featured a Palestinian boy holding a Kalashnikov assault rifle.

Israeli spokesman Mark Regev rejected the reference to armed resistance, saying negotiations are the only the way to peace.

"I think what we want to show the entire Palestinian people [is] that they have so much to gain through moderate policies, through a process of reconciliation, not through violence and through jihad," Regev said.

The conference highlighted the deep rift between Palestinians in the West Bank and those in the Gaza Strip. The Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza and rejects peace talks with Israel, barred some 400 Fatah members in the territory from attending the gathering in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. Hamas ousted Mr. Abbas and his Fatah forces from Gaza in the Palestinian civil war two years ago.

Hamas said the conference is illegitimate because it was not invited. In his speech, Mr. Abbas described Hamas as "usurpers" and "forces of darkness."

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