Abbas, Mahmoud

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Abbas, Mahmoud

Mahmoud Abbas (mäkhmōōd´ äbäs´, mämōōd´), 1935–, Palestinian leader, also known as Abu Mazen. He was born in Saffed, Palestine (now in Israel), but his family fled during the 1948–49 Arab-Israeli conflict and lived in Syria. Educated at Damascus Univ. and Moscow Oriental College, Abbas helped found Al Fatah and held nonmilitary positions in the group under Yasir Arafat. A Palestinian negotiator on the Oslo Accords and in subsequent talks with Israel, he became deputy chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1996 and briefly served as Palestinian Authority (PA) prime minister in 2003, resigning after clashing with Arafat over control of the security forces. Regarded as a pragmatist, Abbas has called for an end to armed struggle against Israel, saying that the Palestinians are outgunned and cannot win.

Abbas was chosen as PLO chairman and the leader of Al Fatah following Arafat's death in 2004, and was elected president of the PA in 2005. The 2006 election of a Hamas majority in the PA legislature led to a standoff between Abbas and the Hamas government over recognizing Israel and over control of the security forces, resulting in a government that was unable to function and tensions that at times erupted into fighting between Hamas and Al Fatah. In early 2007 both groups agreed to form a power-sharing government, but Abbas dissolved the government after Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June, 2007, and appointed an emergency government with no Hamas members. In 2009 Abbas indicated he would not seek a second term, but the PLO voted (2010) to extend his PA presidency indefinitely when it and Hamas could not agree on an election date.

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