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Palestinian security forces arrest supporters of Abbas rival Dahlan

Move follows widespread speculation that exiled Palestinian leader played a role in normalisation deal with UAE
Dahlan has lived in the UAE since being driven out of the Israeli-occupied West Bank in 2011

Palestinian security forces arrested more than half a dozen supporters of an exiled Palestinian politician who some have accused of involvement in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) deal to forge ties with Israel, a spokesman for his faction said.

Mohammed Dahlan has lived in the UAE since being driven out of the Israeli-occupied West Bank in 2011 after a bitter row with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and his political party Fatah, of which Dahlan is a member.

The Gulf Arab country's deal to establish diplomatic relations with Israel has angered Palestinians and stirred widespread speculation that Dahlan, an adviser to UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, played a role.

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Dahlan's faction has criticised Arab countries forming relations with Israel before its conflict with the Palestinians is resolved, though he has not outright denied involvement.

On 17 September, Dahlan called for elections to reshuffle Palestinian leadership, saying that Palestine "desperately needs to renew the legitimacy of its leadership."

"Those who are not elected by their people will not be able to lead and achieve national independence," he wrote in a Facebook post.

On Monday, seven members of Dahlan's faction were arrested by security forces from Abbas's PA, which has limited self-rule in the West Bank, according to Dahlan faction spokesman Imad Mohsen, who called the arrests "politically motivated".

The arrests were carried out in the West Bank and included Haytham al-Halabi and Salim Abu Safia, both senior members of Dahlan's faction, a statement from the group said.

In a statement, the Palestinian security forces said they had detained Halabi from a village near the West Bank city of Nablus as part of "a continuation of efforts to impose security and order".

The statement did not mention any other arrests. The PA's interior ministry declined comment, Reuters reported.

Misquoted

A former Gaza security chief, Dahlan has long been floated as a potential successor to Abbas. He has cultivated close ties with UAE leaders since his exile.

On Thursday, an Israeli newspaper rowed back on a quote by US Ambassador David Friedman suggesting Washington was considering supporting Dahlan as the next PA president, saying it misquoted the envoy.

Asked in an interview with Israel Hayom on Wednesday whether the US was considering the possibility of "appointing" Dahlan, who lives in the UAE, as the next Palestinian leader, the paper originally quoted Freidman as saying: "We're thinking about it, we have had no desire to engineer the Palestinian leadership."

However, later on Thursday, Israel Hayom, which is close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, issued a clarification, insisting the ambassador instead said "We're not thinking about it."

'Betrayal'

Last month, Palestinians across the occupied territories demonstrated against the UAE deal.

Video footage of a protest in Ramallah showed demonstrators setting fire to photos of the UAE crown prince and Dahlan - who is on Turkey's most-wanted terrorism list for allegedly playing a part in the country's 2016 failed coup. 

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Dahlan brought and then dropped a libel case against Middle East Eye, which originally reported his alleged role in the plot.

The UAE and fellow Gulf Arab state Bahrain signed normalisation agreements with Israel at the White House last week in a ceremony hosted by US President Donald Trump.

The deals were the first such accommodations between Arab countries and Israel in more than 20 years.

Palestinians have called the moves a "betrayal," fearing they would weaken a longstanding pan-Arab position that calls for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory and acceptance of a Palestinian state in return for normal relations with Israel.