JERUSALEM — A popular Palestinian militant broke with the political party that controls the Palestinian Authority late Wednesday, escalating a power struggle and dimming the party’s hopes of retaining a monopoly on power in parliamentary elections.
The militant, Marwan Barghouti, 61, was long a revered figure in Fatah, the secular party that runs the Palestinian Authority and was co-founded by Yasir Arafat, the former Palestinian leader. Though serving multiple life sentences in an Israeli prison for five counts of murder, Mr. Barghouti commands considerable respect among many party cadres and is considered a potential future candidate for Palestinian president.
On Wednesday night, Fatah members acting on his behalf broke with the party, forming a separate electoral slate that will compete against Fatah in the elections in May and posing a direct challenge to Fatah’s 85-year-old leader, Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.
Mr. Barghouti’s faction joined forces with another longtime protagonist of Palestinian politics, Nasser al-Kidwa, a nephew of Mr. Arafat and a former Palestinian envoy to the United Nations, who split from Fatah this year.
before withdrawing and supporting Mr. Abbas. He had been a leader of the Palestinian uprisings in late 1980s and early 2000s, and was convicted in 2004 for involvement in the killings of five Israelis.
He was sentenced to five life terms and campaigned for office from his jail cell.
Fatah’s supporters will now be forced to choose among three Fatah-linked factions — the official party, the Barghouti-al-Kidwa alliance, and a third splinter group led by an exiled former security chief, Muhammad Dahlan.
Members of Mr. Barghouti’s alliance said they had created the new faction to revitalize Palestinian politics, which has increasingly become a one-man show centered around Mr. Abbas, who has ruled by decree for more than a decade.
“The Palestinian political system can no longer only be reformed,” said Hani al-Masri, a member of the new alliance, at a news briefing on Wednesday night. “It needs deep change.”
A Fatah official dismissed the group as “turncoats.”
“Even with our prophet Mohammed, there were turncoats,” said Jibril Rajoub, the secretary-general of the Fatah Central Committee, at a separate press briefing outside in Ramallah, West Bank. “Fatah is strong and sticking together.”
Mr. Abbas has canceled elections in the past, and some believe he may seek to do so again in the coming weeks.