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Peace talks: Palestinians who say no.

Amid the weary acceptance among Palestinians of the Rabin-Arafat deal, there is still a hard core of rejectionists who stand firmly against the proposed agreement. Foremost among their spokesmen is PFLP-GC leader Ahmed Jibril, who distrusts the compromises made by the Tunis-based PLO leadership. He recently voiced his concern to Alan George.

AHMED JIBRIL, regarded by Israel and the East as one of the most notorious international terrorists, has warned that Arab and Islamic radicals will use violence to block any Middle East settlement which ignores the full rights of the Palestinians. Interviewed at his offices in the Mezraa district of Damascus, he told The Middle East: "What |Israel's prime minister~ Rabin dreams - that he can normalise relations with Greater Syria |Syria, Jordan and Lebanon~ - is impossible. The people of Greater Syria would not allow an Israeli to walk in their streets."

Jibril, head of the hardline Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC), reviles Yasser Arafat as a traitor who will meet the same fate as the late Egyptian President Sadat. He scorns as a sell-out the PLO-Israel agreement for limited Palestinian autonomy in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho.

Arafat would be punished "because he secured nothing for the Palestinians," asserts Jibril. "He didn't obtain self- determination, the right of return |for Palestinian refugees~, or a statement from Israel agreeing to remove the settlements established since 1967 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and he left the destiny of Jerusalem completely uncertain." Israel, he insists, has conceded nothing. The Palestinian intifada had made the occupation of the Gaza Strip an increasing burden, which the deal with Arafat would ease. "What Rabin did, he did because he felt that the snowball was becoming too big, and he wanted a rest," claims Jibril. "And this he could achieve by using Arafat as a policeman."

He then cites an Arab proverb: "He who has a cook has no need to dirty his own hands." Under the PLO-Israel accord, "Arafat will cook while Rabin looks on, and maybe eats."

Rabin has given "nothing but promises and words. He says: After some years we will open a dialogue with you, the Palestinians, and then we'll see what to do - after the end of the intifada and the end of armed resistance in south Lebanon, and after economic co-operation has been established with all the Arab countries. At that point, I ask myself, what could Arafat do except submit completely to the Israelis' demands?"

Jibril remains committed to the liberation of all of Palestine, and the return of all the Palestinians who were exiled on Israel's formation. "I tell you, without this outcome there will be no peace in this region," he said.

The PFLP-GC believes that the only way forward is continued struggle, by arms and through the intifada. If Syria and Lebanon made peace with Israel, however, would they not crack down on the hardliners? "We are a popular, mass movement and we work amongst the masses," Jibril responds. "It's true that we have made some financial and material gains, such as offices, radio stations and military training. But we don't see these as fundamental. Very simply, |if we lose them~, we would go and live in the Palestinian camps and amongst the Arab masses to educate our Arab people and the Palestinians about the dangers."

Jibril was born in 1937 of a Palestinian father and a Syrian mother and spent his early years in the small village of Yazour, three kilometres from Jaffa. During what Israelis call their War of Independence but what Palestinians simply term the Catastrophe, his family was exiled to Syria. At the time, he was aged ten.

Aged 19, Ahmed Jibril joined the Syrian army and became an explosives and demolition expert, attaining the rank of captain. Some accounts say that he was twice dismissed from the army for engaging in "revolutionary activities". Mr Jibril, however, said that he "asked to be retired".

After finally parting company with the Syrian army, in the 1960s Jibril joined and left several Palestinian groups. The last was George Habash's Marxist-leaning Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). In 1968, amid much acrimony, Jibril and his supporters split to form the PFLP-GC.

Essentially, the group is secular, socialist and nationalist. Recently, however, in a clear response to the rise of fundamentalism in the region, the PFLP-GC introduced an Islamic element into its rhetorical package. Jibril frequently refers to the "Arab and Islamic region" and the "Arab and Islamic people".

Jibril insists that his group has never hit anything but military targets. "For sure, we have moral values which prevent us from hurting innocent civilians," he says, contrasting this with American behaviour towards the Palestinians and other Third World peoples.

"We wish that US administrations could have even a fraction of the moral values that we have," he added. History tells a somewhat different story. In February 1970 PFLP-GC operatives planted bombs with barometric triggers aboard a Swissair flight from Zurich to Tel Aviv and an Austrian Airlines flight from Frankfurt to Vienna. The Swiss aircraft crashed 15 minutes after take-off, killing all 47 passengers and crew. The pilot of the Austrian plane managed to make an emergency landing at Frankfurt after the bomb had ripped a hole in the fuselage.

A PFLP-GC unit detained in Germany in 1988 was found in possession of several barometric-triggered bombs built into radio cassette recorders. Jibril said that the unit's mission was to channel munitions into occupied Palestine via Haifa port, and that the cassette recorder bombs were destined for use against Israeli military targets on the ground.

According to Jibril, "after the US attacked Libyan cities, there was much anger and the leader of the cell |Hafez Kassem Dalkamouni~ decided by himself to target US soldiers. The targets were special military trains moving between US bases in Germany."

How does he fell about Dalkamouni taking it upon himself to change the unit's mission? "We are in a popular revolution, and sometimes we accept strong emotions," explains Jibril. "We can't make all our commanders work like electronic switches." He firmly dismisses speculation that his group might have played a role in the Lockerbie bombing. Such an operation would have been morally repugnant.

In its operations against Israeli military targets, however, the PFLP-GC has been amongst the most daring and innovative of the guerrilla groups. In the annals of Palestinian history it will perhaps be remembered above all for its November 1987 hang glider raid from south Lebanon, in which three guerrillas attacked an Israeli military outpost, killing six soldiers and wounding seven others.

The assault was pivotal in sparking the Palestinian intifada in the occupied territories. Ahmed Jibril deploys the analysis and rhetoric of Middle Eastern revolutionary nationalists whose causes and regimes, by and large, have failed. Yet it would be a gross mistake to write off the PFLP-GC as an irrelevance, a faction entirely dependent on its Syrian hosts and caught in a time warp. Equally wrong would be to dismiss Jibril and his men simply as "terrorists"

The group may be small. Some of its methods may be questionable, to say the very least. And its message might sound dated in the post-Cold War world. But Jibril's outlook, and especially his simmering rage at the injustice of the Israeli takeover of his homeland, is widely shared amongst the Palestinians, especially those who lost everything in 1948. And the PFLP-GC has proved over the years that it is perfectly capable of rocking the regional political boat.

"I want a solution which will take me back to my village," Jibril says. "Because I express such a desire, I am called a radical and a terrorist who threatens international peace." The small boy from Yazour has forgotten nothing and forgiven nothing.
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Title Annotation:Current Affairs; Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command leader Ahmed Jibril
Author:George, Alan
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Nov 1, 1993
Previous Article:Peace talks: Jordan's time for decision.
Next Article:Terrorism: threat from the shadows.

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