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Palestinian group sounds like Al Qaeda but forgoes violence

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In interviews here in the West Bank, its leaders and followers say they're winning the hearts and minds of millions with a purer idea: the reestablishment of one united Islamic rule under a caliphate, roughly translated as a successor to the prophet Mohammad.

Though its numbers are hard to measure – and the worldwide movement shuns polls and other Western democratic means – Hizb ut-Tahrir is emerging as a movement with formidable levels of popularity and an alluring ideology that is challenging the very bastions of Palestinian politics.

Hizb ut-Tahrir's influence has grown since Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, took control of Gaza six months ago in a violent coup and split with the West Bank, run by the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA). During that time, say analysts, Hamas has become less involved in West Bank life, with many of its leaders under arrest by Israel or PA forces.

And, from November's peace conference in Annapolis, Md., to President George Bush's visit here earlier this month, Hizb ut-Tahrir is growing more visible. It has rallied demonstrators to denounce the peace talks with the US and Israel. "There is no place for the illegal discussion of an Israeli-Palestinian process controlled by the United States," says Maher al-Jabari, a Hizb ut-Tahrir member authorized to speak to the press – itself a shift after years of a low-profile approach. "[Fatah leader] Mahmoud Abbas is a friend of Bush and his position is illegitimate. Abbas does not represent Palestine or the Palestinians," he says.

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