The Fatah faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas officially announced on Wednesday that it had merged its two election lists into a single list, headed by Marwan Barghouti.
The move had been at the heart of controversy amongst many Palestinians, some of whom opposed such unification which would combine the old guard of the party with the newer one, led by Barghouti.
Earlier in the day the faction led by Barghouti, a Tanzim member who is currently serving a jail sentence in an Israeli prison, met to discuss the possibility of unification.
One source close to Barghouti explained that the young guard leader was not opposed to unification of the list, saying, "The road looks paved to unity, Barghouti himself authorized the merger, but we were surprised that the Fatah leadership reneged on some of the agreements, and insisted on bringing in senior members, some of whom caused our resignation. We want a young, fresh list, without any stain of corruption."
For his part, Abbas has been concerned that the internal Fatah fighting might hurt the party's chances of beating Hamas in the elections. In a bid to strengthen the group, the separate lists were united.
In protest of the inclusion of old guard figures in the new list, which include Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, some 60 gunmen took over four election offices in the Gaza Strip and exchanged fire with Palestinian security forces.
In Khan Younis, more than twenty masked gunmen overtook an election office in protest, while in Rafah, gunmen surrounded and attempted to enter an election office.
PA security forces, however, dispelled the violence and set up roadblocks to prevent the gunmen from hampering election activity.
Meanwhile in the West Bank, around twenty gunmen seized Bethlehem's city hall temporarily, reportedly demanded jobs.
Bethlehem's city hall offices are located not far from the Church of the Nativity, which has been visited by thousands of tourists in recent days to celebrate the Christmas holiday.
Standoffs such as those in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank on Wednesday have occurred on a nearly daily basis recently, with gunmen demanding employment or protesting changes to the upcoming election, currently set for January 25.
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