Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command

All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About encyclopedia.com content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC)

LEADER: Ahmad Jibril

USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: Syria; Lebanon; Israel

U.S. TERRORIST EXCLUSION LIST DESIGNEE: The U.S. Department of State first declared the PFLP-GC a terrorist organization in October 1997


The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) is a secular, Marxist-Leninist group that stands for the armed liberation of Palestine, destruction of Israel, and global socialist revolution. It formed the Syrian-backed faction of the original PFLP, breaking ranks in 1968, barely a year after the coalition's inception. It has been heavily backed over the years by both Syria and Iran, although its activities, which have declined inexorably since 1990, and its commitment to the Palestinian cause—as opposed to Syrian interests—has been under question since the 1980s.


The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) can trace its origins back to the creation, in 1959, of the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) by Ahmad Jibril. Jibril had been born in Palestine but moved to Syria in his teens. Later, he became a captain in the Syrian Army's engineering corps, where he cultivated ties with emergent military figures that would later wield considerable power in Damascus and provide military and logistical assistance to his political ambitions.

In 1967, the Syrian Government backed the PLF's merger with two other groups, the paramilitary wing of George Habash's Arab National Movement, Youth for Revenge (or Youth Avengers), and the Heroes of the Return, a paramilitary group set up in Lebanon in 1966. This new movement, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), fell under the leadership of Habash.

The coalition was, however, an uneasy one, and a power struggle between Jibril and Habash bubbled over less than a year after its inception. At the core of their disagreement was the principle of state sponsorship, with Jibril believing that the Palestinian struggle could not succeed without outside intervention, and Habash fearing Syrian domination and believing his own position against a Damascus-backed rival, backing an independent line. At one stage in 1968, Habash was imprisoned in Damascus, following which the two rival factions went their separate ways. Jibril founded the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) with his followers in December 1968, leading it from Damascus; while Habash went to Lebanon leading a diminished PFLP.

Outside backing aside, both groups had much in common, maintaining a resolutely hard line against moves towards a political settlement with Israel. They were also mostly at odds with the PLO. Nevertheless, despite greater financial and political backing, it was Habash's faction that exerted and continued to exert most power and infamy.

Two terror attacks carried out by the PFLPGC stand out, however. In February 1970, it used a barometric pressure device to blow Swissair Flight 330 out of the sky. All forty-seven passengers on the flight bound for Israel died, including, the group boasted, senior Israeli officials, information that turned out to be incorrect. In April 1974, three PFLP-GC members massacred eighteen Israeli civilians, including nine children, in the town of Kiryat Shmona, near the Lebanese border.

From holding outright opposition to the PLO, the PFLP-GC went on to hold a seat on the PLO's Executive Committee and Central Council in 1974. The intention, however, was entirely to do the bidding of its Syrian hosts, that at the time were holding out for a peace agreement with Israel. When such prospects faded, Jibril abandoned all pretence at moderation, vehemently rejecting any political solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In 1976, Syrian troops invaded Lebanon and attacked not the Israeli-backed Maronite Christians, but the Palestinian guerrillas operating from refugee camps across the country. This was an act of pan-Arab heresy akin to King Hussein's Black September purge five years earlier, but the PLFP-GC openly endorsed the intervention—a sure indication of its confused priorities. At this stage, a faction led by Mahmoud Zeidan (Abu Abbas), left the group and established the Palestine Liberation Front.

From this point, the PLFP-GC can be viewed almost entirely as a tool that, like the Abu Nidal Organization, operated in the interests of whichever government gave it military and financial backing. In 1983, after Yasser Arafat had intimated that he was willing to negotiate with Israel, the PFLP-GC and a pro-Syrian Fatah breakaway, Fatah Uprising, backed by Syrian artillery, drove remaining Arafat supporters out of northern Lebanon. When King Hussein of Jordan reached an agreement with Arafat in February 1985 about the future involvement of Jordan in the West Bank, Jibril's men were sent on a number of anti-Jordanian guerilla missions on Syrian instructions.

Syrian backing, however, steadily decreased as the country became plagued with economic problems in the late 1980s, and the PFLP-GC started flirtations with other regimes. Libya provided training camps, funding, and military aid, for instance, providing a hang glider used to stage an attack in November 1987 on an Israeli military base near Kiryat Shmona, which killed six soldiers. It was also linked to the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, an atrocity blamed on Libyan intelligence agents, but which implicated a number of groups by association. At the Lockerbie trial in 2001, the defense claimed that the attack was the responsibility of PFLP-GC, a claim which was rejected by the court. Lockerbie, nevertheless, saw Libya renounce terrorism in 1989, shortly after the PFLP-GC began receiving Iranian funds.

The PFLP-GC resolutely opposed the Oslo Accords, and in the early 1990s, assassinated a number of Arafat allies in south Lebanon. In April 1995, it was reported that a PFLP-GC agent had infiltrated Arafat's security detail with the intention of killing him but was uncovered following an Egyptian intelligence tip.



The PFLP-GC's founder and leader, Ahmad Jibril, was born in Jaffa, Palestine (now Israel) in 1928 but was raised in Syria, later becoming an army captain in the country's engineering corps. He founded the Palestine Liberation Front with the backing of military allies he had cultivated, forming the PFLP with George Habash in 1967, before going his own way with PFLP-GC a year later.

An utterly uncompromising individual, Jibril, despite sharing many of the leftist, secular aims of other Palestinian liberation groups, has always trod his own path with seemingly unstinting loyalty to Damascus. From the early 1980s, his group succumbed to every intrigue and underhand action of his adopted country, even when it ran counter to the interests of Palestinian liberation. Such intransigence and betrayal, combined with his refusal to accept the Oslo Accords of 1993, left Jibril a marginalized figure, a man who could only attract attention by claiming responsibility for illicit acts his group was seemingly no longer capable of.

Nevertheless, the attacks and militancy of PFLP-GC seemed to be on the wane throughout the 1990s, with the organization lacking the physical presence in the Occupied Territories enjoyed by those groups that had returned post-Oslo Accord. This changed with the onset of the second intifada in October 2000 and the election of Bashar al-Assad following his father's death in June that year.

Bashar upped PFLP-GC's funding, seeking to increase his influence in the Occupied Territories under the cover of the uprising. Its attacks included border raids from south Lebanon into Israel and rocket attacks on Israeli settlements. Jibril also claimed that a huge arms shipment uncovered by the Israelis was destined for its forces, although this was almost certainly untrue and merely a boast to increase his organization's prestige.

PFLP-GC were also implicated in a plot to blow up the Azrieli Center in Tel Aviv in 2001, a fifty-story twin-towered building modeled on the World Trade Center in New York. Whether PFLP-GC was behind the attack remains to be seen: different sources have also linked the PFLP and Hamas to the attack.


Like the preeminent PFLP, the PLFP-GC is a Marxist-Leninist organization committed to the liberation of Palestine and creation of a new world order based on socialism. It seeks the destruction of Israel as a way of creating a Palestinian homeland and has spent much of its existence at odds with the PLO, a feud that occasionally assumed murderous proportions. It opposed the Oslo Accords of 1993.

Since at least the early 1980s, however, these ideals have fitted in with Syrian political interests. Indeed, the actions of the PFLP-GC, far from serving the Palestinian people, because of its subordination to Damascus have, in practice, often worked against them.

Its actions have included shootings, guerilla raids into Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon (in which it has almost killed more Arab than Israeli targets), and rocket attacks. It was also responsible for the bombing of a Swiss jet in 1970 and implicated in the Lockerbie bombing in 1988.


In April 2003, U.S. President George W. Bush, added Syria to his so-called Axis of Evil, for, among other things, sponsoring terrorism. Charles Cato, Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, said that these accusations were probably true, but they ought not to be exaggerated. "The current rhetoric about Syria is deja vu," he wrote. "It's almost like an instant replay of what was said about Iraq. Syria has weapons of mass destruction. Syria supports and harbors terrorists. Add to this the claims that Syria supplied the Iraqi military with night vision goggles and allowed Islamic fighters to cross the border to fight against U.S. forces, and that Syria has allowed Iraqi leaders (perhaps even Saddam Hussein himself) to flee across its border."

"… The truth is—much like Iraq—that Syria's weapons of mass destruction and support for terrorism do not represent a direct threat to the United States. And rather than trying to beat Syria into submission and increasing the U.S. military presence in the region, the administration needs to develop an exit strategy to remove U.S. troops from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. That will do more to lessen the threat of terrorism against America than regime change in Damascus."


Ahmad Jibril leads a his Syrian—backed faction away from George Habash's PFLP and forms the PFLP-GC.
Bombs Swissair Flight 330, killing all forty-seven passengers.
Massacres eighteen Israeli civilians in the town of Kiryat Shmona.
PFLP-GC joins the PLO for the first time.
Syria invades Lebanon to attack Palestinian guerillas. After PFLP-GC leadership offers its support, a faction led by Abu Abbas leaves the group and establishes the Palestine Liberation Front.
PFLP-GC leaves the PLO.
Death of Syrian leader, Hafez al-Assad, and the election of his son Bashar, who increases support for PFLP-GP during the al-Aqsa intifada that year.

The "Axis of Evil" accusation begged Sir Andrew Green, the former British Ambassador to Syria (1991–1994), to reassess Syria's credentials as a rogue nation. With specific regard to its support of Palestinian militants, he wrote: "The Syrians have long given hospitality to the political wing of Palestinian rejectionist movements. They permit the Iranians to channel through Damascus airport the arms required by Hezbollah in south Lebanon. These are regarded as potential levers in negotiations with Israel for return of the occupied Golan Heights. They also give Syria some measure of influence over the Palestinian and Hezbollah resistance. This is tough diplomacy, Middle East style; it hardly amounts to being a rogue state."


It could be said that the PFLP-GC threw away what support it had as far back as 1976 when it backed the Syrians in the Black June attacks against Palestinian guerillas in Lebanon. The increase in funding from Bashar al-Assad has done little to change this situation during the al-Aqsa intifada, nor the idle boasts of its founder-leader, Ahmad Jibril. Nevertheless, the organization was still regarded a serious enough threat for someone to murder Jibril's son and heir apparent, Jihad, in a car bomb attack in 2002. Jibril immediately pointed the finger at Israel, but it could equally have been from the other side of the Arab-Israeli divide.

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC)


The PFLP-GC split from the PFLP in 1968, claiming it wanted to focus more on fighting and less on politics. Originally it was violently opposed to the Arafat-led PLO. The group is led by Ahmad Jabril, a former captain in the Syrian Army, whose son Jihad was killed by a car bomb in May 2002. The PFLP-GC is closely tied to both Syria and Iran.


Carried out dozens of attacks in Europe and the Middle East during the 1970s and 1980s. Known for cross-border terrorist attacks into Israel using unusual means, such as hot-air balloons and motorized hang gliders. Primary focus is now on guerrilla operations in southern Lebanon and small-scale attacks in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.


Several hundred.


Headquartered in Damascus with bases in Lebanon.


Receives logistical and military support from Syria and financial support from Iran.

Source: U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Terrorism. Washington, D.C., 2004.



Cummings, Bruce. Inventing the Axis: The Truth about North Korea, Syria and Iran. New York: New Press, 2004.

Deeb, Marius (ed.). Syria's Terrorist War on Lebanon and the Peace Process. New York: Macmillan, 2004.

Seale, Patrick. Assad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1989.


Abu Nidal Organization

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)

views updated


Radical Palestinian group.

With between 500 and 1,000 members, the Popular Front for the Liberation of PalestineGeneral Command (PFLP-GC) is one of the smaller Palestinian guerrilla organizations. The PFLP-GC recruits mainly from the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon and Syria. Its leadership, under Ahmad Jibril, served in the Syrian military before forming the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) in 1965. After briefly merging with al-Fatah, in 1967 they were founding members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), then broke away in October 1968. The PFLP-GC was admitted to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in late 1969 and acquired a seat on the PLO Executive Committee in June 1974. Based first in Amman and then in Beirut, its headquarters have been in Damascus since 1982. During the late 1960s another, unrelated PFLP splinter group, led by Ahmad Zaʿrur and eventually known as the Organization of Arab Palestine, also used the name PFLP-GC, but it was usually distinguished as PFLP-GC (B). During this period the original PFLP-GC was therefore often known as PFLP-GC (A) and occasionally operated as the al-Aqsa Fidaʾiyyun Front.

Nominally Marxist-Leninist, the PFLP-GC has been one of the most uncompromising of the Palestinian "rejectionist" groups. In October 1974 it was a founding member of the Front of Palestinian Forces Rejecting Surrenderist Solutions (the Rejection Front). In 1983 it was one of two PLO factions to rebel after Yasir Arafat hinted at making peace with Israel, and it has since boycotted all PLO institutions, supporting a series of rejectionist coalitions from Damascus.

The PFLP-GC is known for its indiscriminate military actions specializing in the use of small,
highly trained units for high-profile operations. It was responsible for a suicide raid on an apartment building in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona in April 1974 that killed eighteen Israeli civilians, and for the November 1987 hang-glider attack on an army camp in northeast Israel that killed six soldiers. It is presumed to be responsible for the February 1970 midair explosion of a Swiss airliner en route to Israel that killed more than forty-five people; the 1978 bombing of a Beirut building that killed more than two hundred PLO personnel; and a series of Syrian-backed attacks in Jordan and Europe, notably the bombing of a civilian airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland in December 1988. Its military positions across Lebanon face regular Israeli attacks, and Jibril's son Jihad, responsible for operations in Lebanon, was killed in 2002 by a car bomb that was widely believed to have been planted by Israel.

The PFLP-GC's close links with Syria (as well as Libya and, more recently, Iran) have reduced its autonomy, undermining its credibility among Palestinians when its other loyalties placed the PFLP-GC in military conflict with the PLO. In 1977 a faction led by Muhammad Zaydan and Talʿat Yaʿqub split off to revive the PLF after Jibril justified Syrian military incursions into Palestinian camps in Lebanon. In 1984 Jibril was expelled from the PLO following Syria's 1983 confrontation with the PLO. A decade later, the PFLP-GC was implicated in attempts on Arafat's life. The PFLP-GC's presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is consequently small. Nevertheless, its 1985 prisoner exchange with Israel, enabling hundreds to return to the Palestinian territories, infused valuable (if primarily nonPFLP-GC) cadres into these territories. Its 1987 hang glider operation also perceptibly emboldened the Palestinian population on the eve of the Intifada, and from the 1990s, the PFLP-GC trained and smuggled arms to Islamist groups in the territories. Its Syrian-based radio station, Idhaʾat al-Quds (Radio Jerusalem), established in 1988 to encourage rebellion in the West Bank, was popular, and often jammed by Israel. It publishes Ila al-Amam (Forward), first issued in 1963, and al-Jabha (The front), which first appeared in 1969.

see also fatah, al-; jibril, ahmad; palestine liberation organization (plo); popular front for the liberation of palestine; rejection front.


Cobban, Helena. The Palestinian Liberation Organization: People, Power and Politics. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Gresh, Alain. The PLOThe Struggle Within: Towards an Independent Palestinian State, revised edition, translated by A. M. Berrett. London: Zed Books, 1988.

Quandt, William B., et al. The Politics of Palestinian Nationalism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973.

Smith, Charles D. Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's Press, 2004.

mouin rabbani
updated by george r. wilkes

views updated

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC)

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) split from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in 1968, claiming it wanted to focus more on fighting and less on politics. Opposed to Arafat's Palestine Liberation Army (PLO), the PFLP-GC is led by Ahmad Jabril, a former captain in the Syrian Army. The PFLP-GC maintains close ties to both Syria and Iran.

The PFLP-GC carried out dozens of attacks in Europe and the Middle East during the 1970s-80s. Known for cross-border terrorist attacks into Israel using unusual means, such as hot-air balloons and motorized hang gliders, PFLP-GC's recent primary focus is on guerrilla operations in southern Lebanon, small-scale attacks in Israel, West Bank, and Gaza.

The PFLP-GC has an estimated several hundred adherents, and is headquartered in Damascus with bases in Lebanon. They receive support from Syria and financial support from Iran.



Central Intelligence Agency. World Factbook, 2002. <http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/> (April 16, 2003).

Taylor, Francis X. U.S. Department of State. Patterns of Global Terrorism 2001. Annual Report: On the Record Briefing. May 21, 2002. <http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/rm/10367.htm> (April 17, 2003).

U.S. Department of State. Annual reports. <http://www.state.gov/www/global/terrorism/annual_reports.html> (April 16, 2003).


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