JENIN, West Bank - The militant Palestinian group Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said Tuesday it is opposed to Mahmud Abbas being elected president of the Palestinian Authority to replace Yasser Arafat and would instead back jailed West Bank Fatah leader Marwan Barghuti.
"We do not support Abu Mazen for the election and we have decided to vote for Marwan Barghuti to be our candidate for president," a spokesman said, using Abbas' nom-de-guerre.
Abbas, the new PLO leader, is expected to be formally named as the candidate for the January 9 election for the mainstream Fatah party that he co-founded with Arafat, of which Al-Aqsa is an armed offshoot.
Sources within the organisation said that the decision had been made during a phone conference on Monday night with leaders of different cells throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
However one of the most prominent members of the organisation, Zakaria Zubeidi, stopped short of formally endorsing Barghuti.
"Since the (September 2000) start of the intifada we have not made any political statements," he said. "Whoever is the president we will respect that."
A poll conducted last month said Barghuti was the second most popular choice for Palestinian Authority president behind Arafat, who died last Thursday in a Paris hospital.
Fadwa Barghuti has said her husband - widely regarded as the inspiration behind the Palestinian intifada - was the "strongest candidate" for the presidency, but that his bid would depend on Fatah.
But on Monday, Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath said Fatah had reached a consensus that Abbas should be its candidate in the election to replace Arafat.
In June, Barghuti was sentenced by an Israeli to five life terms for murder. He denied all charges.