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Popular Front For The Liberation Of Palestine

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al-Jabha ash-Sha’abiya li-Tahrir Falestin, al-Jabha ash-Sha’abiya

Source: Jewish Virtual Library

Founded on 11 December 1967, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine is a progressive vanguard organization of the Palestinian working class. The group is guided by Marxism-Leninism and, together with other left-wing Palestinian organizations is struggling to build a working-class party.

Led by George Habash, the group was originally backed by Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser. Habash viewed the "liberation" of Palestine as an integral part of the world Communist revolution. The PFLP hijacked Israeli aircraft in 1968. It abducted and threatened four American journalists in Beirut in 1981 (two from the New York Times, one from the Washington Post and one from Newsweek). PFLP members have continued to perpetrate terrorist acts through the years.

Today, the PFLP "aims to mobilize and lead the struggle of the Palestinian masses for the return to Palestine, self-determination, and the establishment of a Palestinian state. These, in turn, are steps along the path of defeating the Zionist entity, liberating all of Palestine, and establishing a democratic Palestinian state where all citizens enjoy equal rights, free from discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or religious belief. Beyond this, the PFLP aims at the establishment of a democratic socialist society."

At the beginning of October 2001, Ahmad Sa'adat replaced Abu Ali Mustafa as the head of the PFLP. Mustafa, also known as Mustafa Zibri, was assassinated by Israel August. 27, 2001. Sa'adat was born in 1953 in the West Bank town of Al-Bireh, where he still resides. He joined the PFLP in 1969 and has been arrested a number of times by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Since 1993, he has been wanted by Israel for his role in terrorism.

Habash retired in 2000 after 32 years as head of the PFLP.


Source: International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian (PFLP) is Marxist-Leninist group founded in 1967 by George Habash. The PFLP sees itself as "a progressive vanguard organisation of the Palestinian working class" and its stated aim as "liberating all of Palestine and establishing a democratic socialist Palestinian state."

The PFLP was one of the original members of the PLO, but suspended its participation in 1993, when Yasser Arafat signed the Declaration of Principles with Israel. Upon its withdrawal from the PLO, the PFLP joined the Alliance of Palestinian Forces (APF) to oppose the Oslo peace process. However, in 1996, the organization split from the APF, along with the DFLP, over ideological differences.

In 1999, the PLFP took part in meetings with Arafat’s Fatah party and PLO representatives to discuss national unity and the reinvigoration of the PLO. The organization has drawn closer to the more violent elements of Fatah in the months since Arafat returned to armed confrontation with Israel.

The PFLP was founded by George Habash in December 1967, in the wake of the Six-Day War. Throughout most of its existence, the organization combined Marxist ideology with Palestinian nationalism, and was among the first of the Palestinian organization to use terrorism as a means to win attention to its cause. The PFLP saw the elimination of Israel as a means towards the ultimate goal of ridding the Middle East of dictators who kow-towed to Western capitalism.

The organization carried out a long list of terrorist attacks in the international arena, particularly hijackings against aviation targets. The majority of these attacks were carried out under the direction of George Habash’s associate Dr. Wadi’ Haddad, better known to Palestinians as “The Master.” In November 1968 the PFLP carried out the first of many spectacular plane hijackings, diverting an El Al plane enroute from Rome to Tel Aviv and forcing it to land in Algeria. A month later the PFLP attacked an Israeli aircraft at Athens airport. The Israelis refused to accede to the demand to release Palestinian terrorists in their prisons and retaliated by attacking Beirut airport and destroying thirteen parked aircraft.

The most outstanding terrorist attack from this period was the concurrent hijacking of four western passenger airliners to Jordan. On 6 September 1970 the PFLP, acting on the instructions of Wadi’ Haddad simultaneously hijacked a Swissair DC-8 and a TWA Boeing 707. Six days later, this was followed by the hijacking of a BOAC VC-10. The aircraft were forced to land at Dawson Field, 30 miles from Amman, which the hijackers renamed “Revolutionary Airport.” Meanwhile another PFLP hijack team attempted to hijack an El Al plane, but was foiled by the pilot, who put the plane into a steep dive, and the quick action of a sky marshal and some of the passengers who overwhelmed the hijackers. Instead, the PFLP managed to hijack a Pan American Boeing 747, which was flown to Cairo. All of the planes were blown up on the ground after the passengers were evacuated.

This incident led to the events of “Black September,” in which the Palestinian organizations were expelled from Jordan by the forces of King Hussein. After years of violent clashes between members of the various Palestinian guerrilla groups and the Jordanian army and security forces, Hussein finally declared war on the PLO, imposing martial law. Three thousand people lost their lives in the fighting that ensued between Jordanian forces and PLO supporters. Finally, in a peace agreement brokered by the Arab League and by Egyptian President Nasser, the PLO agreed to move its headquarters from Jordan to Lebanon.

With the decline of the Soviet economy and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union, the PFLP found itself pushed to the periphery of the Palestinian armed struggle. The group was superceded in the Palestinian Autonomous territories by the Islamist groups, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Attempting to regain the initiative after the signing of the Declaration of Principles in 1993, the PFLP joined forces with a 10-member rejection front, based in Damascus. It forbade members to participate in the Palestinian elections in 1996. However, three years later, Abu Ali Mustafa, the designated successor of George Habash, traveled to Cairo to negotiate better terms with Yasser Arafat.

George Habash resigned from the leadership of the PFLP in May 2000. His protege, Mustafa Ali Kasam Zabiri, also known as Abu Ali Mustafa, was chosen as general secretary of the organization, and formerly took up office in July of that year. Mustafa also served as a member of the Political Bureau and the Central Committee of the organization, as well as the Central Council of the PLO and the Palestinian National Council.

Born Mustafa Zibri in the West Bank town of Arabeh, near Jenin, Mustafa was a veteran of the PLO and had been politically active since the 60’s. He became a member of the “Commune Alarab” movement in 1966, and in 1969 was appointed military representative in the PFLP in Jordan. Following the events of “Black September,” he transferred his activities to Lebanon. In 1972, Abu Ali Mustafa was linked to the hijacking of a Lufthansa plane, and headed the negotiations on behalf of the terrorists. In 1987 Mustafa became a member of the Executive Council of the PLO, and in 1996, he took charge of PFLP internal operations.

Even within his own organization, he was regarded as something of an extremist, and was known as Pro-Syrian. From the outset, he opposed the Oslo agreements and supported the continuation of the military struggle to eradicate Israel. In a 1996 interview with the Palestinian paper Al-Kuds, Mustafa stated that he would not evconsider integrating his organization into the Palestinian Authority, due to the difference in opinions between the two bodies. In an interview with the Qatari satellite television station Al-Jazeera shortly before he became leader of the PFLP, Mustafa stressed his movement’s commitment to the struggle against Israel, regardless of peace efforts. “We believe the conflict and the struggle against Israel is a strategic [principle] that is not subordinated to any consideration,” he said.

In the September 1999, Abu Ali Mustafa, received permission to enter the Palestinian autonomous areas. At that time, he transferred the headquarters of the PFLP from Damascus to the Palestinian autonomous city of Ramallah. With the outbreak of the current conflict, Mustafa reaffirmed his support for the “armed struggle,” and ordered his organization to begin executing extensive terrorist operations, part of which took place within Israeli territory.

On 27 August 2001, Abu Ali Mustafa was killed in an initiated attack by the Israeli army, which fired three missiles from a helicopter into Mustafa’s office.

Abu Ali Mustafa was succeeded as leader of the PFLP by Ahmed Sadat, who was appointed General Secretary on 3 October 2001. Sadat’s appointment to lead the group as seen as further radicalization of the PFLP.

Sadat, a leader of the extreme faction of the PFLP in the territories, supports the continuation of the armed struggle and staunchly opposes the Oslo Accords. He sees himself loyal to the “original” principles of the PFLP—those of George Habash—and since the outbreak of the current violence, has, together with along with Ahad Olma, directed the majority of the organization’s terrorist attacks. His position as Secretary General has lead to an increase in the PFLP’s involvement in terrorist activity, and the marginalization of the “pragmatic” faction of the organization, that had attempted to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority.

In 1973 the PFLP accepted a decision of the Palestinian National Council to cease terrorist activities abroad. This decision created a split between the leadership of the PFLP and the Hadad Faction, which continued to carry out terrorist attacks in the international arena. In May 1972 the PFLP, using members of the Japanese Red Army, carried out an attack on Lod airport in Israel which left twenty-four dead. On 9 July, the Israelis hit back by assassinating PFLP spokesman Ghassan Kanafani in Beirut.

George Habash, meanwhile, complied with the decision of the Palestinian National Council and acted to prevent his group from carrying out attacks in the international arena. Instead, the PFLP concentrated its activities in the local arena, carrying out attacks in Israel, Jordan and later in Lebanon. In the subsequent years, the organization carried out a great number of terrorist attacks against Israeli targets, along with guerilla attacks against IDF and SLA targets in Lebanon.

With the outbreak of the first Intifada, in 1987, the PFLP began organizing limited operations from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

At the beginning of the current confrontations in the disputed territories, the PFLP participated in violent activities and carried out a number of terror attacks including nine car bombs (in Jerusalem, Or Yehuda, Yehud, and Haifa), small-scale bombings, and shootings in the West Bank that killed two Israeli civilians.

Some of the PFLP’s most recent terrorist attacks in Israel:

  • 8 February 2001: Car-bombing on the Beit Israel road in Jerusalem. Five civilians were lightly wounded.

  • 21 March 2001: A car bomb was discovered and neutralized in the Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem. There were no casualties.

  • 23 April 2001: Car-bombing in OrYehuda. Four civilians were lightly wounded.

  • 27 May 2001: Car-bombing in the Russian Compound in Jerusalem. There were no casualties.

  • 1 June 2001: Bombing in Mevasseret Zion. There were no casualties.

  • 18 June 2001: A motorcycle-bomb was discovered in Haifa. There were no casualties.

  • 2 July 2001: Two car bombs exploded in Yehud. Eleven civilians were wounded. The cars, belonging to Israelis, had been broken into the previous night and bombs,were rigged to be detonated by cellular phones planted in the trunks.

  • 27 July 2001: Bomb planted in a municiple bus at the Malcha shopping mall was discovered during a security check in Jerusalem.

  • 22 August 2001: Car-bombing in Jerusalem. There were no casualties.

  • 3 September 2001: A car bomb and three remote-control bombs exploded in Jerusalem. Nine civilians were injured.



Other Names
The Red Eagles
T the Red Eagle Group
T he Red Eagle Gang
The Halhul Gang
The Halhul Squad

Marxist-Leninist group founded in 1967 by George Habash as a member of the PLO. Joined the Alliance of Palestinian Forces (APF) to oppose the Declaration of Principles signed in 1993 and suspended participation in the PLO. Broke away from the APF, along with the DFLP, in 1996 over ideological differences. Took part in meetings with Arafat's Fatah party and PLO representatives in 1999 to discuss national unity and the reinvigoration of the PLO but continues to oppose current negotiations with Israel.

Committed numerous international terrorist attacks during the 1970s. Since 1978 has conducted attacks against Israeli or moderate Arab targets, including killing a settler and her son in December 1996.

Some 800.

Location/Area of Operation
Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and the occupied territories.

External Aid
Receives safehaven and some logistic assistance from Syria.

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