Sunday 15 May 2016

The Palestinian connection

[This is the headline over an article by Martin Asser published on the BBC News website on this date in 2000. It reads in part:]

The Lockerbie trial has resurrected the names of players in Palestinian radical politics that have long since ceased to be relevant in the armed struggle for an independent Palestinian state, a cause which itself has been consigned to the margins.

It was a world veiled in secrecy, where the abundance of splinter groups reflected the fact that internecine rivalry often took the place of liberation as the major occupation of those involved.

Lawyers for the two Libyans on trial for the 1988 airline bombing fingered 11 alleged members of the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front (PPSF), a little-known organisation which is now allied to Palestinian self-rule leader Yasser Arafat in the Israeli-occupied territories.

The more prominent Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC), a prime suspect in the immediate aftermath of the Lockerbie atrocity, also had an unspecified number of its members accused in the trial indictment.

Both groups have denied involvement, with protestations that, when they were involved in the armed struggle, their operations were directed exclusively against Israel.

Before the emergence in the late 1980s and 1990s of Hamas and Hezbollah as the major vehicles of militant (Islamic) resistance against Israel, the PFLP-GC, founded by Ahmad Jibril in 1968, took the lead in anti-Israeli attacks. (...)

Ahmad Jibril was born in the Palestinian city of Jaffa, now in Israel, in 1928, but his family moved to Syria and he became an officer in the Syrian army, reportedly attending the British military academy at Sandhurst.

He set up the small Palestinian Liberation Front in 1959, joining forces in 1967 with fellow radical George Habash to found the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

His breakaway PFLP-GC was founded after tensions arose between Syria and Mr Habash. Mr Jibril has remained consistently pro-Syrian ever since.

This orientation caused splits with other Palestinian organisations, such as the pro-Iraqi Fatah Revolutionary Council (the Abu Nidal group) in 1978, and the umbrella PLO in the mid-1980s, when Yasser Arafat broke with Damascus over negotiating with Israel for territory.

Mr Jibril's "revolutionary nihilism" - as one rival leader put it - apparently also led him into the arms of similarly inclined states such as Libya and Iran.

Hardly present in Israel and the occupied territories themselves, his group was to be found wherever there were the most hardline opponents of Israel. (...)

West Germany was the main centre for alleged PFLP-GC cells, in association with PPSF cells in Scandinavia.

These are alleged to have been engaged in bomb making and planning attacks on behalf of Iran and Syria, including the Lockerbie bombing. Tehran's motive, with Syrian backing, could have been revenge for the July 1988 shooting down of an Iranian airliner with the loss of all 270 people on board by a US warship in the Gulf.

The possibility of Libyan sponsorship, to avenge the 1986 US bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi, was also mooted in the aftermath of Lockerbie. The PFLP-GC had been linked to Col Gaddafi, who reportedly arranged training for Mr Jibril's fighters and even recruited them in his war against Chad in the 1980s.

However, there remain many sceptics who believe Washington's identification of Libya as the sole perpetrator of the Lockerbie bombing has much more to do with politics than evidence.

The first US theories put Syria and Iran firmly in the frame, but that changed after Syria joined the alliance to oust Iraq from Kuwait in 1991, and shortly thereafter Damascus became a key player in the US-sponsored Arab-Israeli peace process.

But it is in the nature of groups like PFLP-GC, and their relationship with the states which support them, that the whole truth may never come out.

[RB: Dr Kevin Bannon’s rather different perspective on the PFLP-GC can be read here and here.]

No comments:

Post a Comment