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April 23, 2003

BBC profile on Mohammed Dahlan July 2002

Mohammd Dahlan was until recently one of the most powerful Palestinians next to Yasser Arafat and retains the potential to replace him. The 41-year-old former Preventative Security Chief in the Gaza Strip is one of the youngest Palestinian leaders and has the confidence of the United States and, to some extent, Israel.

Dahlan has been involved in peace talks with Israel. He is, according to Israeli media, the only Palestinian besides Mr Arafat to have been granted a private meeting with former US President Bill Clinton. Mr Dahlan is someone the Israelis feel they could do business with.

He was part of the Palestinian delegation at the Camp David peace talks in the summer of 2000, where, he says, he was "one of those who fought hardest to reach an agreement" with the Israelis.

As head of one of the main Palestinian security organisations, Mr Dahlan also negotiated with Israeli officials to try to arrange a ceasefire several times after the second Palestinian intifada (uprising) erupted in September 2000.

But Mr Dahlan has also been closely linked to one of the militant groups at the forefront of the current fighting, the Tanzim in Gaza, which has carried out scores of attacks on Israelis.

Arrest and expulsion

Born to a refugee family in Gaza in 1961, Mr Dahlan grew up under Egyptian, then Israeli, control. He joined the ranks of Palestinian activists who fought Israeli rule and says he was jailed 10 times by Israel between 1981 and 1986. Dahlan is a close confidant of Yasser Arafat. During his time in prison, Mr Dahlan learned to speak fluent Hebrew.

After the first intifada broke out in 1987, Mr Dahlan became one of the uprising's young leaders, but he was swiftly arrested and deported by the Israelis to Jordan, then by Jordan to Egypt and by Egypt to Iraq.

He joined the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), then based in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, from where he continued to orchestrate protests in the West Bank and Gaza, earning Mr Arafat's trust.

Pragmatic and tactical, Mr Dahlan recognised the gains to be made from Israeli overtures and was involved in secret talks with Israel which led to the Oslo peace accords of 1993 and the creation of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

He returned to Gaza with Mr Arafat in 1994 and was rewarded with control of the security forces in the PA's powerbase.

Support waning

But, with the outbreak of the second intifada, Mr Dahlan's credibility on the Palestinian street has been eroded. Dahlan's order to arrest militants alienated many Palestinians.

Under pressure from Israel and the United States, Mr Dahlan's security forces have cracked down on Islamic militants from time to time - a deeply unpopular move among Palestinians.

His good relations with Israel and the United States are also viewed with deep suspicion by some Palestinians, who regard dealing with the US and Israel as colluding with the enemy.

Mr Dahlan has supported calls for reforming the Palestinian Authority, and resigned his post as security chief on 5 June 2002, in the hope that he would be reinstated as newly-created interior minister in Mr Arafat's reshuffled cabinet.

But his gamble did not pay off and he was offered a job as Mr Arafat's security advisor instead. Mr Dahlan has been critical of Mr Arafat's handling of the intifada, but he has said he will not stand against Mr Arafat in a leadership contest while the Palestinian leader faced outside pressure.