Last updated: 20 July, 2011

Jailed Fatah leader urges mass protests

Jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghuti has called for large-scale peaceful protests in support of a Palestinian bid for United Nations membership in September.

In a statement released from his cell in Israel’s Hadarim prison, Barghuti, who is widely considered as the architect of the second Palestinian intifada, said winning the “battle of next September” would require mass mobilisation in the territories and abroad.

“Winning the battle of next September, which is an important step in our struggle, requires the biggest peaceful popular protests here and in the diaspora, and in Arab and Muslim countries and international capitals,” Barghuti said in the statement, obtained by AFP.

“This means the mobilisation of all the energies of our people and the involvement of everyone in this battle.”

With peace talks stalled, the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah is planning to request UN membership for a state of Palestine based on the lines that existed before the 1967 Six Day War.

The bid is fiercely opposed by Israel, which has already begun preparing for the possibility of large-scale demonstrations in the West Bank, Gaza and along its borders in September.

The plan has also received a lukewarm reception from Gaza’s Hamas leaders, but Barghuti called on all Palestinian factions to get behind the bid.

“It’s not just the fight of president Mahmud Abbas, the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the Palestinian Authority, the factions or the embassies,” he said.

“It’s the fight of every citizen, every Palestinian and Arab, every free person in the world.”

The Palestinian factions “should rise above their differences for the sake of this fight,” he added.

The stocky 52-year-old is a long-time member of Abbas’s Fatah party, but has worked to bridge the divide between the group and the Islamist Hamas movement.

The two movements, who have been at loggerheads for years, recently signed a surprise reconciliation deal which has yet to be implemented on the ground.

A lifelong activist who supported the Oslo peace process in the 1990s, Barghuti is widely believed to have masterminded the second intifada that erupted in 2000.

He was arrested in 2002 and two years later, was sentenced to five life terms for murder for his role in several deadly anti-Israeli attacks, although he has since said he never supported attacks on civilians inside Israel.

A lifelong activist who supported the Oslo peace process in the 1990s, Barghuti is hugely popular among the Palestinian public and has been touted as a successor to Abbas.

In 2008, he sent a letter to the Israeli NGO Peace Now calling for a “historic reconciliation” that would result in a two-state solution.