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Sunday, 2 June, 2002, 21:12 GMT 22:12 UK
Palestinian hardline meets in Iran
Ahmad Jibril, head of the PFLP-GC, confers with Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Abdullah (r)
Leaders of the PFLP-GC and Islamic Jihad converse
Jim Muir

A two-day conference has opened in the Iranian capital, Tehran, in support of the Palestinian uprising against the Israelis.

Held in commemoration of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, father of the Iranian revolution, it brought together many figures regarded by both Israel and the US as hardened terrorists - although Iran and many Arabs hail them as heroic strugglers for liberation.

Our only weapon is our love of martyrdom and death. We'll never give it up until our goals are achieved

Ahmed Jibril
Among them were leaders from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas movements, and from the Lebanese Hezbollah.

There was also Ahmed Jibril, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC), whose son Jihad was killed last month in Beirut in what was believed to be an Israeli action.

Martyrdom was indeed one of the main themes of the opening speeches.

Attacks 'to continue'

The conference organiser, Ali-Akbar Mohtashemi - who as Iranian ambassador in Damascus was instrumental in setting up the Lebanese Hezbollah in the early 1980s - said that the Palestinian intifada, and especially the suicide bombings, had achieved more than all the Arab wars and peace talks with Israel.

Ayatollah Khomeini
The conference is in commemoration of the Ayatollah Khomeini

He referred to Israel as "a cancerous tumour implanted in the heart of the Islamic world which must be uprooted before it takes over".

Both Ahmed Jibril and the Islamic Jihad leader, Ramadan Abdullah, told the BBC that suicide bomb attacks would continue because they were the only weapon the Palestinians had in an unequal battle.

"Of course we'll keep up the martyrdom operations," said Ahmed Jibril.

"The enemy has every possible modern weapon, but our only weapon is our love of martyrdom and death. We'll never give it up until our goals are achieved," he said.

"We have no choice but to take the initiative and defend ourselves with ourselves, through suicide operations and in all other ways, which are legitimate as long as the occupation continues," he added.

They regarded the latest peace proposals as nothing more than an empty trick to get the Palestinians to give up the intifada.

They said the Americans were trying to extinguish the flames in Palestine so that they could get on with their plan to strike other Arab countries and movements.

The deputy leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah, Sheikh Naim Qasem, said that Palestine was the first line of defence for both the Arab and Islamic worlds, and if it fell, they would fall too.

Diplomatic damage

It is not expected that anything practical will come out of this conference.

But it will certainly reinforce Iran's support for hardline elements within the Palestinian arena.

Tehran is certainly not encouraging the Palestinians to re-embrace the US-sponsored peace process.


Israel must be destroyed

Banners in Tehran

"The new strategy of bringing the Palestinians back to the negotiating table is only intended to divide the Palestinian groups and suppress the intifada," said Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a message to the conference.

He described the gathering as "a symbolic and valuable initiative intended to inspire the struggles of the Palestinian people against the occupiers".

Main thoroughfares in many parts of Tehran have for several days been draped with banners bearing the picture of the late Ayatollah Khomeini and one of his slogans: "Israel must be destroyed."

All this could entail diplomatic damage for Tehran, coming as it does at a time when the European Union is debating whether to open serious negotiations on a trade and co-operation agreement with the Islamic republic.

European ministers meet in Brussels on 10 June to discuss a move which some are reluctant to take because of reservations over Iran's human rights record, its Middle East policies, and its alleged attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction.


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