The decision by jailed terrorist Marwan Barghouti to withdraw from the upcoming PA presidential elections will serve to increase his popularity among Palestinians and ultimately strengthen his case for release, a Palestinian official said.

Ahmed al-Tibi, senior adviser to the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat who visited Barghouti in prison yesterday, described Barghouti’s morale as “high” and said his last-minute decision not to run in the Jan. 9 presidential elections this week won Barghouti more appreciation and respect among Palestinians, and could lead to increased demands for his release.

Tibi said Barghouti expressed optimism that 2005 would be a “turning point in Palestinian history to witness the start of the end of Israeli occupation,” and would witness the formation of a “new Palestinian political order and a shakeup among various Palestinian factions.”

In remarks that some say sounded like he was planning a return to politics, Barghouti urged the international community to press Israel to end the “occupation.”

As WorldNetDaily reported exclusively, Barghouti, who last week announced he may run in the Palestinian presidential elections as an independent candidate but 24 hours later withdrew his bid, struck a deal with Fatah that may make him the PA vice president and would ensure Fatah launches a campaign to secure his release.

A senior Palestinian source speaking on condition of anonymity told WorldNetDaily: “[Interim PA President Mahmoud] Abbas has the popularity within the Fatah Revolutionary Council to be nominated as their presidential candidate. Barghouti doesn’t. But Abbas needs the backing of the street to carry out his policies, and Barghouti can bring this for him.”

“Fatah is preparing to launch a pressure campaign to have Barghouti released that will coincide with the upcoming PA elections,” said the source.

Reports had listed Barghouti, who was recently sentenced in Israel to five life terms for planning gun ambushes and a suicide bombing, and is a founder of the terror group Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, as the widely favored candidate for PA president, and his bid to run in the Jan. 9 election would have posed a major challenge to Abbas, who does not enjoy widespread popular approval.

The deal now makes Abbas the front-runner in the upcoming elections. While Abbas has the backing of the Fatah legislative council, he is considered part of the “old guard” establishment of the Palestinian leadership that returned to Gaza from Tunis with Arafat and is widely disliked by the younger generation of Fatah activists, who favor Barghouti.

The source would not elaborate on the specific strategy of Fatah to campaign for Barghouti’s release, but his appointment as vice president could itself lead to increased international pressure on Israel to release Barghouti in the immediate future.

Related stories:

Source: Terrorist struck deal with Fatah

Convicted terrorist to run for PA leader

Pollard: Israel groomed jailed terrorist to head PA

Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.