GAZA CITY, April 25 -- Yasser Arafat was re-elected Thursday to head the executive committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The vote came during the final session of the three-day meeting of the Palestinian National Council, the PLO's governing body. Arafat, who has chaired the PLO executive committee since 1968, told the council that he and the other 17 members of the committee had resigned before the voting. But by an overwhelming majority, PNC members voted for a recommended slate made up of Arafat and ten previous committee members. They were joined by seven first-time candidates. Arafat also serves as president of the Palestinian Authority, the interim ruling body for the Palestinian self-rule areas on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. After the voting, Arafat, 69, thrust his two fingers into the air in a sign of victory and thanked the cheering assembly, which was meeting in the Shawa cultural center in Gaza City. 'I thank you very much ladies and gentlemen for electing me again as chairman of the PLO executive committee, and for giving me this heavy responsibility,' Arafat said. During Thursday's final session, the council urged Israel to lift the border closure it imposed against the Palestinian self-rule areas after the spate of suicide bombings in February and March. In a report, the PNC also insisted to an end to the Israeli 'occupation and the Jewish settlements built on our territories, and establish our independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.' East Jerusalem, the report said, is part of the Palestinian territories that was occupied by Israel during the Arab-Israeli war in 1967.
'It is the capital of our independent state and 242 and 338 UN resolutions related to the holy City should be implemented,' Ahmed Abdul-rahman said. In an historic move Wednesday, the Palestinian National Council, the PLO's governing body, voted 504-to-54, with 14 abstentions, to delete the sections of the PLO charter that called for the destruction of Israel. The vote fulfilled a longtime Israeli demand and paved the way for the resumption of Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, which are due to start May 4. The Iran-backed Hezbollah and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a PLO rival, denounced the charter revision Thursday, calling it a 'free' concession by Arafat to Israel.