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Wednesday, 26 June, 2002, 14:12 GMT 15:12 UK
Arafat's potential successors
Yasser Arafat
The Palestinian leader has announced elections for next year
With Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat under increasing pressure from the United States to step aside, focus has once again shifted to potential successors.

Although no clear-cut heir to the Palestinian leader has ever emerged - largely down to Mr Arafat's own engineering - a number of names have often been cited.

These people are unlikely to mount a challenge to their own leader, but they would most likely be waiting in the wings if he were to step aside.

Possible contenders fall into two main categories - the older men who lived decades in exile with the Palestinian leader and younger ones who grew up fighting the Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza and studying Israeli society at close hand.

However, in recent weeks a Palestinian lecturer - Abdel Sattar Qassem - has come forward as Mr Arafat's only declared challenger.

Ahmed Qurei

The 65-year-old speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council is the closest the Palestinian leader has to a deputy. He would become acting president if Mr Arafat died.

Ahmed Qurei
Ahmed Qurei: The closest the Palestinian leader has to a deputy
Mr Qurei - otherwise known as Abu Ala - was one of the main negotiators in the original, secret talks that brought about the first interim peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993.

He continues to work with Israel's Foreign Minister Shimon Peres on a formula for peace.

But he faces two main obstacles as a potential candidate for future leadership

The first, according to analysts, is that he has no power base within the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) - the umbrella body of the Palestinian movement.

Palestinian political analyst Ghassan al-Khatib says Abu Ala's power is centred on the Oslo structures of the Palestine National Authority, which the Israeli incursions have done much to destroy.

He would not be a popular choice of leader - and lacking a political machine of his own - analysts doubt whether he could win a presidential election.

Second, there has been concern over his health and, recently, he underwent open heart surgery twice in a week.

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    Mahmoud Abbas

    The 67-year-old is otherwise known as Abu Mazen. He is Yasser Arafat's deputy as head of the PLO.

    Mahmoud Abbas
    Mahmoud Abbas: Obvious choice in a presidential election for the Fatah rank and file
    He worked with the movement during its long years in exile in Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia.

    Analysts say his power has ebbed and flowed over the years. He is seen as a moderate and widely regarded as the architect of the Oslo peace process.

    He has frequently negotiated with the Israelis and had dealings with the US, where he is regarded reasonably well.

    Analysts say he would be the most obvious choice in a presidential election for the Fatah rank and file, who would have a strong interest in uniting around a single candidate.

    Abu Mazen would represent continuity and would be acceptable to the vast majority of Palestinians.

    However, some people see him as being too associated with the older generation to be elected as president. Another possible downside is that he has too close an involvement with the failed peace process.

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    Mohammed Dahlan

    The 41-year-old former head of Preventative Security in the Gaza strip is extremely influential among the people there.

    He is said to be a sophisticated politician. He recently resigned his post in the Gaza strip in apparent anticipation of Mr Arafat's reorganisation of his government.

    Mohammed Dahlan is believed to be seeking a job as a senior political adviser to the Palestinian leader, which would broaden his portfolio.

    Mohammed Dahlan
    Mohammed Dahlan: Extremely influential in the Gaza strip
    Like Jibril Rajoub, head of the Preventive Security in the West Bank, he has considerable experience of dealing face to face with the Israelis.

    He belongs to the category of "insiders" - younger men who remained in the Israeli-occupied territories when the PLO was in exile.

    They are said to have stronger roots than the "Tunisians" and acquired their first taste of local leadership during the first intifada which broke out in the 1980s.

    However, analysts say he may not be a popular choice among the Palestinian people because he has often been mentioned as the preferred choice of the US and Israel.

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    Jibril Rajoub

    The 49-year-old head of Preventive Security in the West Bank, is one of the most powerful figures there.

    Jibril Rajoub
    Jibril Rajoub: A powerful figure in the West Bank
    He has wide-ranging contacts with Israeli leaders and has taken part in many negotiating sessions with Israelis over security matters.

    He speaks fluent Hebrew from his years in Israeli prisons.

    He is, however, said to be eyed with suspicion by many Palestinians after many street-level activists after he turned over a group of Hamas fighters to Israel in early April.

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    Marwan Barghouti

    The 42-year-old Secretary-General of Mr Arafat's Fatah movement in the West Bank is one of the Palestinians' most prominent political leaders.

    He has been a major figure in the current intifada, or uprising and has consistently backed resistance by Fatah activists against Israeli occupation.

    Marwan Barghouti
    Marwan Barghouti: Currently in Israeli custody
    He is currently in Israeli custody after being arrested during Israel's military campaign in the West Bank in April. Israel accuses him of being behind attacks on Israelis - a charge he denies.

    Mr Barghouti is a charismatic and determined leader, with a large grassroots following in the West Bank. Much of his support derives from the fact that he spent a lot of time in Israeli jails during the previous Palestinian intifada.

    He is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and would almost certainly run for his seat from jail. It is unclear whether he would run against Mr Arafat for the presidency.

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    Sheikh Ahmed Yassin

    The influence of the militant Islamic group Hamas will be impossible to ignore, although its spiritual leader is unlikely to stand as a candidate.

    Sheikh Yassin
    Sheikh Yassin: The spiritual head of the militant Islamic group Hamas
    Sheikh Yassin, has often been cited as a possible successor to Mr Arafat, but he is in extremely poor health.

    And, the 65-year-old, who is blind and uses a wheelchair, has consistently refused to contest elections.

    Much of his support comes from the young and disaffected. His uncompromising denunciations of Israel inspires many suicide bombers.

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    Abdel Sattar Qassem

    Abdel Sattar Qassem, 53, is a Palestinian dissident and politics professor at al-Najah university - a bastion of the Islamic militant group, Hamas.

    Abdel Sattar Qassem
    Abdel Sattar Qassem: Described as a rebel figure with little local support
    He has been jailed by Israel and - more recently - by Palestinian security forces after criticising Mr Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, which he describes as the "most corrupt of the Arab states".

    He is reported to sympathise with Islamic militant groups and supports suicide attacks against Israeli civilians.

    Mr Qassem does not recognise the state of Israel and opposes the interim peace agreements Mr Arafat struck with Israel.

    He is said to have no local support and has been described as a loner, a rebel figure who is not part of any political organisation.

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