Ben Lynfield
The Independent
August 4, 2009 - 12:00am

Fatah, the dominant Palestinian movement under Yasser Arafat that has gone from debacle to defeat since his death, begins its first leadership convention in 20 years today.

The big question as more than 2,000 delegates gather in Bethlehem is whether the secular group on which the world pins any remaining hopes for a peace deal with Israel can cast off the taint of corruption, regain its legitimacy and put forward new faces who can take back the ground lost to the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement.

One such face belongs to Ziyad Abu Ayn, a close associate of the jailed leader of the second intifada, Marwan Barghouthi. Flashing smiles in all directions, Mr Abu Ayn worked the crowd and exchanged pecks on the cheeks with delegates from Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank. He said: "This is a conference for change; 80 per cent of the leadership must be changed because they failed at everything. It is time for a change of generations." The 50-year-old, who has spent more than a decade in Israeli prisons, added that most of the people on the executive committee were aged in their late 60s or 70s.


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