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Abbas reelected head of Palestine Liberation Organization

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas gestures as he chairs a Palestinian National Council meeting in Ramallah on April 30, 2018 (AFP)

President Mahmud Abbas was reelected head of the Palestine Liberation Organization Friday, as the veteran leader seeks to strengthen his control over politics in the occupied West Bank. A four-day meeting of the PLO's parliament, the Palestinian National Council (PNC), which was not attended by Abbas's Islamist rivals Hamas, backed Abbas and selected a new leadership of the PLO's executive committee. "President Abu Mazen (Abbas) was nominated and unanimously approved as the president of the State of Palestine," senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath told AFP. "An executive committee was chosen and an executive council was chosen." The PLO, an umbrella group which is dominated by Abbas's Fatah party and includes most Palestinian factions but not Hamas, represents the Palestinians internationally. The first regular PNC meeting in 22 years was seen as an opportunity for 82-year-old Abbas to try to increase his legitimacy. Although his term as president expired in 2009, infighting with Hamas has made elections impossible. But the event was overshadowed by comments made by Abbas during his opening speech in which he appeared to blame Jewish behaviour for their persecution in Europe. Israel, the European Union, United States and others lined up to criticise his words, which were labelled anti-Semitic. In closing remarks early Friday, Abbas did not respond to the criticism. He also did not directly address the upcoming US move of its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a decision that prompted the Palestinians to boycott the Trump administration. The new executive committee, the most senior body of the PLO and effectively Abbas's cabinet, included nine new names out of 15. A number of potential rivals, including Yasser Abed Rabbo, were removed. The previously 18-member committee was kept to just 15 representatives to leave space for Hamas and two smaller parties that boycotted the event. Some opposed the event being held in the West Bank, where Israel controls movement, and others wanted the meeting to be postponed until a later date. Hamas, which controls Gaza, has dismissed the PNC meeting. A reconciliation deal signed by Hamas and Abbas's Fatah party in October has collapsed. Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas gestures as he chairs a Palestinian National Council meeting in Ramallah on April 30, 2018