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Jerusalem at Odds Over Barghouthi Release

Israeli officials say Marwan Barghouthi, a popular Palestinian leader currently serving time in an Israeli prison, could be released, following his victory in the Fatah primaries last week.

Elections for the ruling Fatah party were held on Friday in six Fatah branches in the West Bank. In Ramallah, Barghouthi’s bastion of support, he won 96 percent of the votes, which will place him very high up on the Fatah list.

Israeli Foreign Minister Sylvan Shalom said pardoning Barghouthi is out of the question, but Israel’s Army Radio said other official sources could not rule out this possibility.

A “senior government source” told Haaretz that Israel would release him, but only as part of a comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians.

Barghouthi has become a symbol of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. He is currently serving five consecutive life sentences in an Israeli prison for his involvement with terror activity against Israelis.

In the Palestinian street, Barghouthi is seen as a young charismatic leader, sometimes referred to as the Palestinian Nelson Mandela. A picture of a handcuffed but resolute Barghouthi rests on his seat in the Palestinian Legislative Council, indicating that the PLC awaits his return.

Observers are watching the increasing popularity of Barghouthi as opposed to the decline in support for the Palestinian leadership’s Old Guard, from the generation of former leader Yassir Arafat.