Monday, January 28, 2008

Palestine Update: PFLP Founder George Habash Dies at 81

Palestinians mourn radical Habash

Palestinian radical leader George Habash has been buried in Jordan after a chaotic church service attended by large crowds of mourners.

The funeral service was interrupted by chants of support for the former PFLP leader using his nickname "al-Hakim".

The coffin was paraded outside the Amman church draped in a Palestinian flag before being taken for burial.

His Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was active in the armed struggle against Israel from the 1960s.

It was famous for attacks on airliners in the 1970s, including the 1976 hijacking of an Air France airliner to Entebbe, Uganda, which was ended by an Israeli commando raid.

Mr Habash stepped down as leader of the PFLP in 2000, as the group was becoming ever more marginalised by the growing power of Islamist movements like Hamas.

Mr Habash's wife, Hilda, led the procession of mourners who included Nayef Hawatmeh, leader of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and officials from the Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mustafa Barghouti, the Palestinian MP who stood in the 2005 Palestinian presidential election in an alliance with the PFLP, said Mr Habash had shown "loyalty to the Palestinian cause in a very principled manner".

Hundreds of mourners bore Palestinian and PFLP flags to the Greek Orthodox church in west Amman, as well as large portraits of Mr Habash.

Mr Abbas said in a statement that the frequently harsh critic of Fatah had been an "historic leader", and he ordered flags to be flown at half-mast for three days in the Palestinian territories.

Mr Habash, labelled an arch-terrorist by Israel during the hijackings and guerrilla attacks of the 1970s, justified his actions as a way to highlight the neglected Palestinian cause.

He had been in poor health since resigning the leadership of the PFLP. He died on Saturday in an Amman hospital at the age of 81 after having a heart attack.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/01/28 16:18:24 GMT

Obituary: George Habash

By Crispin Thorold
BBC News, Amman

For decades George Habash was one of the most important Palestinian militant leaders.

In 1967 he founded the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) - at one time the most notorious of the many Palestinian factions.

The group and its leader pioneered the tactic of hijacking aeroplanes, to try to achieve political objectives.

For many years the PFLP was very influential within the PLO, second only to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

George Habash was born into a Christian family in Lydda (present-day Lod) in Palestine around 1926. His family fled their home in 1948, when Israel was founded. Soon afterwards George Habash enrolled at the American University of Beirut where he studied medicine.

'Revolutionary violence'

However, from an early age politics was Dr Habash's passion. He was an Arab nationalist and was active in the "Youth of Vengeance" group, which advocated violent attacks on traditional Arab governments.

Inspired by the pan-Arab message of the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, George Habash believed for many years that unity between Arab states could bring about the "liberation of Palestine".

After Israel's resounding victory against Egypt, Syria and Jordan in the Six Day War in 1967, pan-Arabism appeared to have been destroyed.

Soon afterwards George Habash formed the PFLP. The group's inaugural statement said that, "the only language which the enemy understands is that of revolutionary violence".

Within the year the PFLP had delivered on its threat of violence. In July 1968 the group hijacked an El Al aeroplane en route from Rome to Tel Aviv.

A new tactic in the Palestinian "resistance" had been born.


Over the next decade the PFLP would carry out some of the defining attacks of the era. These catapulted the Palestinian cause onto the international news agenda, but did not always generate sympathy for the Palestinians.

Many people in Israel and the West thought that George Habash was a terrorist. For many Palestinians and Arabs he was a patriot.

In September 1970 four Western jets were hijacked by the PFLP. Three of them landed at a Jordanian airstrip - an act that triggered a civil war in the country and led to Dr Habash, and the rest of the Palestinian leadership, fleeing Jordan.

From its new base in Lebanon, and later Syria, the PFLP remained an active militant group.

It was also at the forefront of the internationalization of the tactics of terror. In May 1972 George Habash brought together members of the Irish Republican Army, the Baader Meinhof Group, and the Japanese Red Army for a meeting at a refugee camp in Lebanon.

In the same month members of the PFLP and the Japanese Red Army murdered 26 people at Israel's international airport in Lod.

In 1976 the PFLP and the Baader-Meinhof Gang hijacked an Air France flight bound for Tel Aviv, landing the plane in Entebbe, Uganda. The siege only ended when Israeli commandos stormed the plane.

Opposition to Oslo

George Habash and Yasser Arafat had a long-standing rivalry. The tensions between them are cited as one of the reasons why Dr Habash founded the PFLP.

When Fatah, which was led by Yasser Arafat, attempted to build support for the Palestinian cause amongst Arab states in the 1970s, the PFLP turned to Russia and China.

By the 1990s Yasser Arafat was negotiating with the Israelis.

The PFLP rejected political compromise with Israel and continued to promise to replace it with a secular, democratic Palestinian state.

George Habash was vehemently against the Oslo Accords that were signed by Yasser Arafat and the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin in1993.

After Oslo Dr Habash refused to go to the Palestinian territories, even though he was given clearance by Israel to travel there for a meeting in 1996. He believed that if he set foot in the territories he would be legitimizing the Oslo process.

By the time George Habash resigned his leadership of the PFLP in April 2000 the group had been marginalised. The secular Marxist militant group was losing ground to radicals of an altogether different type - Islamist groups like Hamas.

After years of fighting for a Palestinian state George Habash died in the Jordanian capital. Shortly after his death his wife said that he had been watching the latest news from Gaza closely.

"While he was suffering, the doctors used to tell him, you are feeling pain with the people of Gaza", Hilda Habash said.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/01/27 02:22:17 GMT

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine

Founded by George Habash after the occupation of the West Bank by Israel in 1967, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) was formed as a resistance movement.

Combining Arab nationalism with Marxist Leninist ideology, the PFLP sees the destruction of Israel as integral to its struggle to remove Western influence from the Middle East.

During the 1970s the group fostered links with militant groups across the world, including the German Baader Meinhof organisation and Japan's Red Army.

Working with other groups, the PFLP pioneered aircraft hijackings as a high-profile means of drawing attention to their movement, most notably with the capture of an Air France plane en route from Paris to Athens in 1976.

The plane was flown to Entebbe in Uganda where, after a stand-off, Israel launched a dramatic commando raid to rescue nearly 100 hostages.

During the 1970s, the PFLP was the second largest faction in the PLO, but pursued a markedly different strategy to Yasser Arafat's dominant Fatah organisation.

While Fatah attempted to build support for the Palestinian cause from Arab countries, the PFLP became disillusioned with what it saw as inertia among Middle Eastern leaders. Instead the PFLP enlisted backing from Russia and China.

After 1978 the group switched the focus of its operations to attacks on Israeli and moderate Arab targets.


But the decline and collapse of the Soviet Union during the late 1980s undermined the PFLP, and the group lost ground to the radical Islamic Hamas movement.
1967: Founded in the West Bank
1968: Hijacks Israeli plane in first major operation
1972: Involved in Tel Aviv airport massacre
1976: Participates in Air France hijacking
1978: Targets Israel and moderate Arabs
1993: Opposes Oslo peace accord
Attempting to bolster its position after the supposed 1993 PLO-Israeli peace accord the PFLP added its weight to a disparate group of Palestinian organisations opposed to the deal.

It boycotted Palestinian elections in 1996, but three years later, the PFLP accepted the formation of the Palestine Authority and sought to join Yasser Arafat's administration.

The succession of Abu Ali Mustafa, who replaced an ailing George Habash in 2000, was seen by many in Israel as heralding a return to the group's radical policies of 1960s, 70s and 80s.

But Mustafa was soon assassinated by Israeli forces in August 2001 - a sign, said some analysts, of how Israel saw the PFLP as a continuing force.

Indeed the group struck back, shooting Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi, leader of a right-wing party, and claiming it as revenge for Mustafa's death.

Israel alleges that Ahmed Saadat, the current leader of the PFLP, ordered Zeevi's assassination.

Mr Saadat was imprisoned by the Palestinian authorities but later seized by Israeli forces and taken to Israel.

Founder George Habash died in January 2008. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas described him as a "historic leader" and announced three days of national mourning.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2008/01/26 23:53:04 GMT

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