Palestinian territories profile

Palestinian Authority President: Mahmoud Abbas

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas

President Abbas succeeded Yasser Arafat as PLO leader

Former Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, the candidate of the Fatah faction, won the January 2005 poll to replace the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Mr Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, had already succeeded Yasser Arafat as leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), having been Mr Arafat's deputy since 1969.

The surprise victory of the militant Islamic movement Hamas in parliamentary polls in January 2006 led to heightened tension between the Palestinian factions. There were recurring bouts of violence between Hamas and Mr Abbas's Fatah faction, raising fears of civil war. In February 2007, Hamas and Fatah agreed to form a government of national unity.

However, in June 2007 Hamas took control of the Gaza strip, seriously challenging the concept of a coalition, which Abbas subsequently dissolved.

Mr Abbas's current term was set to have ended in January 2009, but in 2008 he announced he was extending his term by another year, in order to allow presidential and parliamentary elections to be held at the same time. The move was denounced by Hamas.

In November 2009, Mr Abbas said he would not stand again in elections scheduled for 24 January 2010, in protest against the continuing impasse in attempts to resurrect peace talks with Israel. The elections were postponed, and he has continued in office on an interim basis.

Many analysts regard Mahmoud Abbas as a moderate. He has condemned the armed Palestinian uprising and favours the resumption of negotiations with Israel. But he faces the challenge of persuading armed groups to stop their campaign of anti-Israeli attacks.

Mahmoud Abbas was born in 1935 in Safed, a town in present-day northern Israel. He co-founded Fatah - the main political grouping within the PLO - with Yasser Arafat in the late 1950s.

He established contacts with left-wing Israelis in the 1970s and was the main Palestinian architect of the 1993 Oslo accords, which led to the foundation of the Palestinian Authority.

His brief stint as premier was plagued by power struggles with Mr Arafat over the control of the Palestinian security apparatus and over planned reforms. Mr Abbas resigned in September 2003.

The former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died in a French hospital on 11 November 2004, aged 75.

Hamas leader: Ismail Haniya

The Hamas leader with the highest public profile is Ismail Haniya, the Palestinian former prime minister who now heads the separate Hamas administration in Gaza.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniya

Ismail Haniya heads a separate Palestinian administration in Gaza

Born in 1962 in the Shati refugee camp to the west of Gaza city, Haniya rose through the Islamist movement in Gaza to become the leader of the victorious Hamas campaign for the 2006 Legislative Council elections. President Abbas appointed him prime minister, but his government was soon plunged into crisis as international donors refused to cooperate with him unless Hamas rejected violence and recognised Israel.

Violence with Fatah escalated until Hamas took control of Gaza in June 2007 and President Abbas dismissed the Haniya government. Since then Hamas has tightened its grip on Gaza, accused Fatah of collusion with the USA and Israel. Rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza have continued, prompting major Israeli reprisals.

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