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Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine


Radical, left-wing Palestinian guerrilla organization.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (also known as the PFLP, al-Jabha al-Shaʿbiyya li-Tahrir Filastin, al-Jabha al-Shaʿbiyya, and the Red Eagles) is a Marxist-oriented group established by George Habash, a Christian Palestinian, after the June 1967 ArabIsrael War. Habash created the PFLP after successfully uniting three groups: Heroes of the Return, the National Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Independent Palestine Liberation Front. In 1968 the group joined the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and was second in importance and influence among the Arab Palestinians only to Arafat's al-Fatah movement.

The group's ideology is based on three principles: Palestinian national sovereignty (wataniyya), Arab unity (qawmiyya), and Marxist-Leninist ideology. The PFLP has sought to unite Palestinian efforts within a secular governing framework, and it has modeled some of its operative activities and strategies on Cuban leader Fidel Castro's revolutionary guerrilla methods. Central to the group's understanding of wataniyya is a strict opposition to the State of Israel, an interest in restoring Arab unity in the region, and criticism of pro-Western Arab states.

In 1970 internal conflict split the PFLP into three separate groups: the PFLP, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and the Popular Front for the Liberation of PalestineGeneral Command (PFLP-GC). Habash remained at the head of the PFLP and forged ties with other leftist groups outside Palestine such as the German Baader-Meinhoff group, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and the Japanese Red Army. The PFLP began operating in Europe and elsewhere, claiming responsibility for such events as an attack at Lod Airport in 1972 and the hijacking of an Air France airbus to Entebbe in 1976. In the Arab world, they are associated with hijacking and the destruction of four international airplanes in Jordan in 1970. These acts of terrorism led to their being banned in Jordan, where they had originally been based. When Jordan's King Hussein expelled the organization, they relocated in Lebanon.

Although it is a member of the larger umbrella group of the PLO, the PFLP has often opposed al-Fatah's policies, forming splinter groups in opposition to Arafat's concessions in the Middle East peace process. During the first Intifada in 1987, key PFLP members formed a group called the Red Eagles that carried out attacks on Israel in the West Bank, and later formed a coalition with other opposition groups such as the DFLP and the Damascus Ten. In 1993 the group finally separated from the PLO after it signed the Declaration of Principles. At that time, the PFLP elected a new executive body: George Habash, Abu Ali Mustafa (Mustafa Zibri), Abd al-Rahim Lalluh, Abu Ahmad Fuʾad, Sabir Muhi al-Din, Taysir Kubʿa, and Umar Kutaysh.

With the decline of Soviet support after the dis-integration of the former U.S.S.R., the PFLP became marginal in comparison to emerging Islamist groups such as HAMAS and Islamic Jihad. Although the group disagreed with the provisions set out in the 1993 Oslo Peace Accord, it renewed its ties with Arafat's al-Fatah group in 1999. This renewal of ties with the PLO signaled a shift in the PFLP's Marxist doctrine, which has become increasingly focused on socialist democracy. Whereas formerly the PFLP did not recognize Israel as a state, it now accepts the possibility of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital alongside a temporary Israeli state that eventually reverts to an "historic Palestine" after the right of return sees Palestinian refugees repatriated.

Habash retired in 2000 and was succeeded by Abu Ali Mustafa. Mustafa had been a founding member of the PLO and a member of its Executive Committee. After taking over in 2000, he moved PFLP headquarters from Syria to Ramallah in the West Bank and began organizing attacks on Israeli targets there. After learning that Mustafa and the PFLP intended to carry out attacks on Israeli schools and other civilian areas, Israeli authorities bombed his office, killing him and several others. Ahmad Saʿadat then became head of the PFLP; he was associated with the assassination of Rehavam Zeʾevi, Israel's tourism minister, and in April 2002 was sentenced to one year in prison for taking part in the assassination. Although the courts later ruled in favor of his release, continued PFLP attacks have prevented this.

The PFLP's funding comes from a variety of sources. Financial and military support are said to come from Syria and Libya, and in 1999, Iranian president Mohammad Khatami promised to continue Iran's support of not only the PFLP, but also the PFLP-GC, Islamic Jihad, and HAMAS. In addition to outside support, the PFLP has financed its activities from front companies as well as legitimate business activities.

During the al-Aqsa Intifada, the PFLP claimed responsibility for a number of violent incidents within Israel's pre-1967 border areas. Habash maintained his opposition to Arafat's signed accords with Israel. Saʿadat also stood in strong opposition to the Oslo Accords, although the general language of the PFLP has shifted from Marxist-Leninist revolutionary appeals to a focus on democracy and social justice.

see also fatah, al-; habash, george; palestine liberation organization (plo); popular front for the liberation of palestinegeneral command.


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mouin rabbani
updated by maria f. curtis

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Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)

At one time affiliated with the PLO, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) is a Marxist-Leninist group founded in 1967 by George Habash. The PFLP joined the Alliance of Palestinian Forces (APF) to oppose the Declaration of Principles signed in 1993 and suspended participation in the PLO. The PFLP broke away from the APF, along with the DFLP, in 1996 over ideological differences. PFLP officers 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 the PFLP continues to oppose current negotiations with Israel.

PFLP committed numerous international terrorist attacks during the 1970s. Since 1978, PFLP has conducted attacks against Israeli or moderate Arab targets, including killing a settler and her son in December 1996. The PFLP increased operational activity in 2001, highlighted by the shooting death of the Israeli tourism minister in alleged retaliation for Israel's killing of a PFLP leader.

The PFLP is estimated to have approximately 800 members, and has operated in Syria, Lebanon, Israel, West Bank, and Gaza. They receive safe haven and logistical assistance from Syria.



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Taylor, Francis X. U.S. Department of State. Patterns of Global Terrorism 2001. Annual Report: On the Record Briefing. May 21, 2002. <> (April 17, 2003).

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Terrorism, Philosophical and Ideological Origins
Terrorist and Para-State Organizations
Terrorist Organization List, United States
Terrorist Organizations, Freezing of Assets

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