Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command


Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (الجبهة الشعبية لتحرير فلسطين - القيادة العامة) is a Palestinian nationalist and Marxist organization, backed by Syria and Iran. The U.S. lists it as a Foreign Terrorist Organization as does the European Union [http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/site/en/oj/2005/l_340/l_34020051223en00640066.pdf] and Canada. [ [http://www.psepc.gc.ca/prg/ns/le/cle-en.asp#hhi18 Currently listed entities ] ]

Background

The PFLP-GC was founded in 1968 as a Syrian-backed splinter group from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). It was - and still is - headed by Secretary-General Ahmed Jibril, a former military officer in the Syrian Army who had been one of the PFLP's early leaders. The PFLP-GC declared that its primary focus would be military, not political, complaining that the PFLP had been devoting too much time and resources to Marxist philosophizing.

Although the group was initially a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), it always opposed Yassir Arafat and opposes any political settlement with Israel; for this reason, it has never participated in the peace process. The PFLP-GC left the PLO in 1974 to join the Rejectionist Front, protesting what they saw as the PLO's move towards an accommodation with Israel in the Arafat-backed Ten Point Program of the Palestinian National Council (PNC). Unlike most of the organizations involved in the Rejectionist Front, the PFLP-GC never resumed its role within the PLO.

Relations to the PLO

PFLP-GC is considered very close to Syria, and has in effect acted as a Syrian proxy force in Lebanon both during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-90), and after the Syrian occupation of Lebanon after the war. In 1976, after the PFLP-GC supported Syrian attacks on the PLO, an anti-Jibril faction defected from the organization, and created the Palestinian Liberation Front (PLF).

The PFLP-GC in Lebanon

The group has limited influence in Palestinian politics, but is still influential in the Palestinian refugee camps of Syria, where it is based, and Lebanon, where Syrian support added to its importance. Its role in Lebanon after Syria left the country in 2005 (see Cedar Revolution) is uncertain, and it has been involved in a number of clashes with Lebanese security forces. In late October 2005, the Lebanese Army surrounded camps of the PFLP-GC in a tense standoff, after Lebanese authorities claimed that the PFLP-GC was receiving Syrian arms across the border. [ [http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/3286C10B-FD2D-4863-AEAE-B185500411FC.htm] [http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exeres/31B75D48-C480-48F0-A345-2297D280CE6B.htm] ] The group has come under fierce criticism within Lebanon, accused of acting on Syria's behalf to stir up unrest. [ [http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=1&categ_id=2&article_id=21365 The Daily Star - Politics - Outrage after PFLP-GC gunmen shoot two ] ]

Designations as a terrorist organization

The PFLP-GC is designated a terrorist organization by the United States (see the U.S. State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations), the European Union, Canada, and Israel.

Armed actions

In the 1970s and 1980s, the group carried out a number of attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians, and gained notoriety for using spectacular means. In one such attack, a guerrilla landed a motorised hang glider (apparently supplied by Libya [ [http://www.meib.org/articles/0209_s1.htm "Sponsoring Terrorism: Syria and the PFLP-GC" (September 2002) ] ] ) near an army camp near Kiryat Shemona in Northern Israel on 25th November 1987. He killed six soldiers and wounded several others, before being shot dead himself. [ [http://news.scotsman.com/topics.cfm?tid=1&id=548182002] [http://radiobergen.org/terrorism/report.pdf] ] The action has been seen by some as providing the catalyst for the eruption of the First Intifada. [ [http://www.trend.infopartisan.net/trd1200/t051200.html Die linke Opposition in der PLO und in den besetzten Gebiete ] ] The PFLP-GC has not been involved in major attacks on Israeli targets since the early 1990s, but it has reportedly cooperated with the Hezbollah guerrillas in South Lebanon.

Distinctions from other groups

Jibril joined with George Habash in 1967 as more or less an equal partner in the PFLP leadership. When he quickly tired of the group's lack of field initiative, he was therefore still able to leave while retaining a significant retainer of his previous supporters. One of his most hated enemies within the group, Naif Hawatmeh, unintentionally provided him with the pretext: While Jibril wrestled with Habash over why the Popular Front was so dependent on theoretical discussion rather than armed struggle, Hawatmeh tried to influence the PFLP in the direction of an ideology as leftist as possible.

Jibril decided that Hawatmeh's theorizing was chafing the PFLP and producing an organization of impotent intellectuals, and declared as such when he formed the General Command. Habash, he stated, had become a puppet to the professors of the exile, the elite among the refugees who were well-educated and wealthy, yet preached class revolution to the masses in the camps.

From the start, the PFLP-GC was more concentrated on means than ends. They never depended on a political platform; most of their recruits were young, exiled, poor, illiterate, and angry. The General Command promised a gun in every hand, and the means to write their own narrative rather than read and praise those of others as the better off exiles did in universities in Europe.

Jibril still used iron discipline to keep his fighters loyal and professional, and the General Command's insurgents were as a result for decades considered the best trained of any of the Palestinian guerrilla groups. What may have helped Jibril was Hawatmeh's own 1969 defection from the PFLP to form the Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PDFLP, later without the "Popular"), after Habash tried to compensate for some of the problems that had caused Jibril's exit.

After 1969 Habash could no longer claim that he was the head of the true organization, as all three of the group's original triumvirate were now separate. Nevertheless, due to the PFLP's spectacular successes, including the Dawson's Field hijackings (September 1970), Lod Airport Massacre (1971), and coordination with the Fatah-backed Black September group in the Munich Olympic killings (September 5-6, 1972), Habash continued to be the first among equals among the Rejectionist Front, the groups that refused any permanent settlement in a framework other than military victory.

Jibril therefore focused on carving out a stake of the PLO recruitment in Lebanese refugee camps. While Fatah absorbed enormous casualties in the 1982 Lebanon War, the General Command succeeded in surviving, and at the end retained most of its previous manpower.

After Oslo

Following the rise of Hamas in the 1987-91 First Intifada among the Arabs living in the West Bank and Gaza, Jibril found an able ally in resisting the trend started by Fatah leader Yasser Arafat toward a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Arab Wars. By that time, the Rejectionist Front was composed primarily of leftist groups, among them the PFLP, DFLP, General Command, PLF, and numerous other small factions. However, as members of the PLO these groups were limited in their ability to confront Fatah, which never lost its supremacy within the umbrella organization. The only group that waged uninterrupted attrition against Arafat was the Fatah-Revolutionary Council led by maverick hardliner Sabri al-Banna (better known as Abu Nidal), who was viewed by other Palestinian organizations as not so much a guerrilla as a pure criminal with no higher goal than deposing the moderates at the head of the PLO.

Though many Palestinians still were opposed to compromising on the principle of defeating Israel by armed struggle, the existing groups could not channel their desires, as many of them were led by the elite among the exile population, who were detached from the reality of the steaming refugee camps, be they in the West Bank and Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, or Jordan. In fact, many leaders of Palestinian groups lived in luxurious accommodations throughout the Eastern Bloc, Europe, or various Arab states, especially Syria, Iraq, and LibyaFact|date=February 2007. Ahmed Jibril uniquely insisted on living in a specially designed security bunker in the Lebanon mountains, a spartan area that was more attuned to the image of a guerrilla leader than Arafat's mansions in Tunis.

With the emergence of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad throughout the 1980s, Jibril proved more able to cope than Habash and his other allies in the Rejectionist Front. This was enabled by a factor that had nothing to do with his abilities or beliefs: While Habash and Hawatmeh were both Greek Orthodox Christians, Jibril was a Muslim, as evidenced by his nom de guerre "Abu Jihad" (not to be confused with Khalil Ibrahim El-Chmar al-Wazir, the head of Fatah's armed wing who used the same alias).

Throughout the 1980s the General Command actively cooperated with the nascent Hezbollah group of Shia Muslim extremists dedicated to the destruction of Israel, as well as with Syria and Iran, both of whom fund and arm Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. In the mid-1990s Jibril held conferences with these groups in Teheran and Damascus in order to achieve tighter coordination of activities, though his organization remained small and its own actions were more concerned with aiding Hezbollah and achieving an Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon. The Israelis never forgot Jibril's spectacular exploits, especially the Night of the Hang Gliders, and used a variety of operations to try and kill him, none successfully, although his son and heir Jihad Ahmed Jibril was assassinated by a car bomb on May 20, 2002, with the identity of the assassins unknown. Due to these activities, the General Command is regarded as the most hard-line of the old insurgent groups, and currently resists the Oslo Accords from its bases in Syria and Lebanon.

References

External links

* [http://www.palestinesons.com/ PFLP-GC official site]
* [http://library.nps.navy.mil/home/tgp/pflpgc.htm Terrorism Resources. Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC)] (U.S. Navy) Source: Country Reports on Terrorism, 2004. United States Department of State, April 2005.
* [http://www.ict.org.il/organizations/orgdet.cfm?orgid=32 Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC)] (ICT)
* [http://www.ict.org.il/articles/articledet.cfm?articleid=25 The International Dimension of PFLP-GC Activity] by David Tal. The Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies. JCSS Project on Low Intensity Warfare & The Jerusalem Post INTER – International Terrorism in 1989 (pp. 61-77) Tel-Aviv, 1990

Further Reading

Katz, Samuel M."Israel versus Jibril: The Thirty-year War Against a Master Terrorist." New York: Paragon House, 1993.


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