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Monday, 27 August, 2001, 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK
Abu Ali Mustafa: 'Right to struggle'
Abu Ali Mustafa shakes hands with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in August 1999
Mustafa returned in 1999 after 32 years in exile
By BBC News Online's Tamar Shiloh

Abu Ali Mustafa, the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), is the most senior militant to be assassinated by Israel.

Born Mustafa Zibri in the West Bank town of Arabeh, near Jenin, Mustafa, 63, was elected leader of the PFLP in July 2000.


The Palestinian people ... have the right to struggle using all means, including the armed struggle, because we think the conflict is the constant, while the means and tactics are the variables

Abu Ali Mustafa
Israel said his group had planned several bomb attacks around the country - including three car bomb attacks in Jerusalem - since the beginning of the intifada, or uprising, last September.

The PFLP said in a statement released after the assassination that Mustafa "defended the Palestinian cause and the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people."

News of the killing caused shock and outrage among Palestinians, tens of thousands of whom took to the streets for an emotional funeral.

Many saw it as a sign that Israel was now targeting their political, as well as military, leaders.

Israeli peace movements and the media joined Arab dailies in criticising the assassination, saying it took the conflict to new heights.

Right to struggle

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 told the interviewer.

"We believe the Palestinian people, both in the Diaspora and under occupation, have the right to struggle using all means, including the armed struggle, because we think the conflict is the constant, while the means and tactics are the variables," he said.

The PFLP describes 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."

Founded by George Habash in 1968, the Marxist-Leninist group has changed alliances and shifted positions several times since its establishment, but it has always been consistent in its opposition to peace negotiations with Israel.

Once a leading organisation, its support has dwindled.

Hijackings

In the late 1960s, the PFLP was one of the first groups to carry out aeroplane hijackings and it maintained close ties with other militant groups around the world, such as Germany's Baader-Meinhoff and the Japanese Red Army.

PFLP founder George Habash
George Habash founded and led the PFLP

With Red Army assistance, the PFLP carried out a massacre of 24 people at Tel Aviv's International airport in 1972.

Four years later, and this time working with Baader Meinhof, the PFLP hjiacked a Paris-Athens Air France flight and diverted it to Entebbe in Uganda demanding the release of jailed militants.

The crisis ended when Israel launched a dramatic commando raid to free about 100 hostages.

In 1993, the PFLP split from Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Liberation Organisation and joined an eight-member group based in Syria, the Alliance of Palestinian Forces (APF), which opposed the Oslo accords.

In 1996, the faction broke off from the APF, along with Naif Hawatmeh's Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, because of ideological differences.

Return from exile

In 1999, it began discussing national unity with Mr Arafat's Fatah faction, but it continued to oppose the Oslo peace process.

That October, Israel allowed Mustafa to return to the Palestinian territories following 32 years in exile, after the Palestinian Authority vowed to curb the PFLP's activities.

Then deputy leader of the PFLP, he became leader within a year.

Israel had accused Mustafa of creating an infrastructure of PFLP supporters among the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.

Amira Hass, an Israeli journalist and commentator who spends most of her days in the occupied territories, wrote that before his assassination, Mustafa did not act like someone who feared for his life.

Everyone assumed that his position as secretary-general of a political organisation that is an important component of the PLO protected him, Ms Hass wrote in Israel's left-leaning daily, Haaretz.

See also:

27 Aug 01 | Middle East
Israel kills key Palestinian leader
08 Jul 00 | Middle East
Palestinian hardliners elect new head
28 Apr 00 | Middle East
Palestinian leader resigns
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