Zaydan, Muhammad ?Abbas (Abu Al-?Abbas; 1943 or 1948–2003)

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ZAYDAN, MUHAMMAD ʿABBAS (Abu al-ʿAbbas; 1943 or 1948–2003)

Palestinian political figure, born in Palestine. After fleeing with his family to Syria in 1948, at the time of the 1948 War, Muhammad ʿAbbas Zaydan went to Egypt, where he studied in Cairo. In 1965 he joined the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) of Ahmad Jibril, then followed Jibril when he merged his PLF into the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), headed by George Habash. In 1968 he followed Jibril again when he quit the PFLP to create the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command (PFLP–GC). In 1977 Jibril's resolutely pro-Syrian policy prompted Zaydan to quit the PFLP–GC, along with Talʿat Yaʿqub, Ali Zaydan, and Said al-Yussuf, to found the Palestine Liberation Front (1977), with headquarters in Baghdad. Yaʿqub was named secretary-general of the new PLF and Zaydan its political leader; their movement joined the Rejection Front [1], from which the PFLP–GC had just been expelled, leading to bloody confrontations between their respective members. In 1983, after Palestinian forces evacuated Lebanon, two tendencies surfaced in the PLF: one was pro-Syrian and headed by Yaʿqub, the other was pro-Yasir Arafat and supported by Zaydan. Zaydan remained leader of the PLF, and Yaʿqub formed his own movement. In November 1984 Zaydan was elected to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee, accentuating his break with the Yaʿqub faction.

In September 1985 he became secretary-general of the PLF. On 8 October, in response to an Israeli raid on the PLO headquarters near Tunis, a commando of his movement took the passengers of an Italian ship, the Achille Lauro, hostage. A Jewish U.S. citizen, Leon Klinghoffer, was killed during the operation. Italy later tried Zaydan in absentia and he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Until 1999 he lived in Tunisia, Yugoslavia, and Iraq. On 22 April 1987 his presence at the Palestine National Council meeting in Algiers prompted a U.S. protest to the Algerians. In May, when Arafat was urging unity in the PLO, Zaydan reconciled with Talʿat Yaʿqub. On 30 May 1990 a PLF commando attempted to stage a naval raid on Tel Aviv, leading to a halt in the dialogue with the PLO that U.S. authorities had just started. The following September Zaydan was expelled from the PLO Executive Committee and replaced as PLF representative by Ali Ishaq.

In spite of his support for Arafat, he was hostile to the peace process launched at the Madrid Conference of 1991 and opposed the Oslo Accords of 1993. After several members of his movement joined the opposition front, the Alliance of Palestinian Forces, Zaydan supported Arafat. In 1999 Zaydan returned to the Gaza Strip after agreeing to support the Oslo peace process, apologizing for Klinghoffer's death and receiving immunity from Israeli prosecution. In 2002, during the al-Aqsa Intifada, he returned to Iraq and from there directed his supporters' actions in the Palestinian territories. In April 2003 he was captured by American forces in Iraq during the Iraq War of 2003 and died in custody in March 2004, apparently from cardiovascular disease.

SEE ALSO Achille Lauro; Alliance of Palestinian Forces (APF); Aqsa Intifada, al-; Arab-Israel War (1948); Arafat, Yasir; Gaza Strip; Habash, George; Iraq War; Jibril, Ahmad; Madrid Conference; Oslo Accords; Palestine Liberation Front (1965); Palestine Liberation Front (1977); Palestine Liberation Organization; Palestine National Council; Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine–General Command; Rejection Front [1].