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August 26, 2009 - 12:00am

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The parliament of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) on Wednesday began its first meeting in more than a decade in the occupied West Bank to replace leaders who have died.

During the meeting in the territory's political capital of Ramallah, the Palestinian National Council (PNC) will pick six new members of the 18-strong PLO Executive Committee headed by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Abbas opened the session by repeating his insistence that Israel must freeze all settlement activity in order to give the stalled peace talks the kickstart the international community is seeking.

He also reiterated that the Palestinians wanted the talks to resume from the point they left off when they were suspended during Israel's deadly offensive on the Gaza Strip, under the previous Israeli administration.

The 500-strong PNC is the PLO's parliament. Along with all members of the Palestinian legislature, the PNC also includes members of the Palestinian diaspora.

Among Executive Committee members who died in recent years was iconic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who passed away in 2004 in a Paris hospital.

The PLO groups the main Palestinian nationalist factions, including Abbas's Fatah, but not the Islamist Hamas which has ruled the Gaza enclave since 2007.

It created the Palestinian Authority (PA) in July 1994 when Arafat returned to Palestinian land after 27 years in exile.

The international community recognises the PLO as the "sole and legitimate" representative of the Palestinian people, but Hamas disputes that claim and has in the past sought to create a rival body.

Ahmed Qorei, a veteran who recently lost his position in the Fatah leadership, is among the leading candidates for one of the six executive committee places, along with top negotiator Saeb Erakat.

The last plenary meeting of the PNC was held in Gaza City in 1996.

The PA has held sway in the West Bank only since forces loyal to Abbas were ousted from Gaza when Hamas seized the coastal strip in June 2007.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017