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Two potential successors to Palestinian president named to top posts

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Feb 7 (Reuters) – Two potential successors to 86-year-old Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were named on Monday to top posts in the Palestine Liberation Organization at a meeting boycotted by his Islamist rivals.

Official Palestinian news agency WAFA said the PLO’s 141-member Central Council appointed Hussein Al-Sheikh, 61, an Abbas confidant who serves as key liaison with Israel and the United States, to the PLO’s Executive Committee.

He is likely to replace the late Saeb Erekat as the committee’s secretary-general.

The council, meeting for the first time in nearly four years, picked Rawhi Fattouh, 73, another Abbas aide, to head the PLO’s highest decision-making body, the National Council.

Both men were nominated by the Western-backed Abbas and his Fatah party and are widely seen in the Palestinian territories as possible successors. They are not expected to promote any shift in policies over the handling of the conflict with Israel.

The Hamas and Islamist Jihad movements turned down an invitation to attend the council’s two-day session, which began on Sunday, saying Abbas had to institute power-sharing reforms first.

“These appointments are void, illegal and lack (national) consensus. It is nothing but a redeployment of (Abbas’s) team,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in Gaza.

Abbas heads the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. His main rival, Hamas, runs the Gaza Strip, also an Islamic Jihad stronghold.

Both groups have accused Abbas, who hasn’t held a presidential election since 2005, of not doing enough to heal Palestinian divides holding up a ballot. Abbas blames Hamas for the current split.

Palestinian analysts said the Central Council’s appointments could improve Sheikh’s and Fattouh’s prospects of succeeding Abbas, but internal divisions and other potential challengers cloud the political picture.

Abbas, who has a history of heart problems, has not proposed a successor.

Reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem Editing by Leslie Adler


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