TYRE, Lebanon: The Palestine Liberation Organization elected Sunday at the refugee camp of Rashidieh near Tyre a 15-member board of representatives, in the first democratic election of PLO leaders in Lebanon.
The counting of votes was still under way late Sunday, as more than 100 voters – representatives from Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian refugee camps – were electing the board.
Sources from the conference told The Daily Star that strong competition between two camps in the PLO was expected to drive the election.
“The battle will take place between the ‘Palestine Embassy group,’ which is led by Fathi Abu al-Ardat, and the group supported by top PLO official Sultan Abu al-Aynayn, who supports Mohammad Zeidani,” the source explained.
More than 40 candidates from Beirut, Bekaa, Tyre and Sidon are competing to be on the board, which will be the first-ever democratically elected PLO body in Lebanon.
Throughout the past decades, representatives of the PLO and Palestinian refugees in the country have been marginalized by the organization’s military wings, which have controlled much of the decision-making in the 12 refugee camps.
According to the source, the PLO leadership has decided to make changes to the decision-making process in Lebanon.
“The PLO has decided not to maintain Lebanon as an arena of Palestinian armament as before, and is moving to strengthen the elected leadership as the highest authority to face the challenges of the next few months,” said the source.
More than 130 Palestinians poured from the country’s 12-refugee camps to monitor the ballot boxes that would decide the names of the new leadership.
Speaking during the conference, which is the second general conference for Lebanon, secretary of PLO factions, Fathi Abu al-Ardat praised Beirut’s role in supporting the Palestinian refugees’ struggle to return to their homeland.
The conference was also attended by high-ranking PLO officials from Ramallah, the West Bank and Jerusalem. The PLO’s top official, Azzam Ahmad, said that the organization is moving toward several reforms to strengthen the ranks of the PLO and its effectiveness in facing the challenges of the Palestinian people.
“The loose [organizational] situation that besieged the organization throughout the world and in Lebanon, will end through new organizational frameworks,” said Ahmad.
Ahmad said that the relationship between the PLO and Hamas is stable and their reconciliation is still strong, despite rumors of its failure.
When asked about the disagreement between Hamas and the PLO on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s bid for full U.N. membership, Ahmad said that Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal’s comments in support of Abbas are enough to refute all rumors of disagreement between the two parties.
“Mashaal said that Hamas stands next to Abbas’s speech during the Jerusalem conference and his bid at the U.N. in New York,” Ahmad said.