Israeli security forces carried out an initiated attack
against the headquarters of Marxist-oriented Popular Front for
the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in Ramallah on Monday,
killing its commander in the territories, Haj Ali Zabri, 63,
better known as Abu Ali Mustafa. According to reports, Mustafa
had considered himself immune to attack since he is a
political leader. Acknowledging his political role, Israel
provided extensive evidence that he played a terrorist and
military role as well. He was killed with two laser-guided
helicopter-fired missiles that hit his Ramallah office.
Israel said that the PFLP and Mustafa are responsible for
dozens of terrorist attacks against Israelis, the latest of
which was the attempted detonation of a car bomb in the
Russian Compound in Jerusalem last week. Zabri is the highest
ranking Palestinian killed since IDF commandos shot dead PLO
military chief Khalil Wazir (Abu Jihad) in his Tunis home in
Since the beginning of the current wave of violence, the PFLP
has been behind a long sequence of car bombs (which
miraculously caused no deaths). Among the more prominent of
* Car bomb in Mea Shearim (Feb. 8, 2001); * Car bomb in the
Beit Israel neighborhood of Jerusalem (Feb. 21, 2001); * Car
bomb in Or Yehuda (April 2001) which wounded eight; * Car bomb
in Jerusalem (May 2001); * A bomb planted in a motorcycle in
Haifa (June 2001); * Explosive devices in Israeli vehicles in
Yahud (July 2001) which wounded four.
Cells of the PFLP are also responsible for attacks using
explosive devices in Jerusalem (Jan 2001), in Mevasseret Zion
(June 2001), in Atarot (June 2001) and, in July of this year,
inside a watermelon placed in a bus near the Malcha shopping
mall in Jerusalem.
Zabri was active in the organization since its inception, and
was considered the heir to George Habash, founder of the
organization. Habash stepped down about a year ago and Zabri
Zabri returned to the Palestinian Authority territory in
September 1999, with Israel's permission, after the PA
guaranteed that it would restrain his terror activities. Even
then he refused to denounce armed struggle. He has not ceased
attacking the political peace process and used every
opportunity to call for a continuation of the armed conflict
For example, in July of last year, in an interview with the
Reuters News Agency, he stressed the commitment of the PFLP to
a military struggle and made clear that a political agreement
could serve at most as one step in a multi-tiered plan against
Zabri was actively engaged in the recruitment of underground
military cells for the PFLP throughout the territories and
instructed their leaders to prepare to carry out the
organization's agenda of terrorist attacks.
Security organs in Israel have watched with concern the
cleverness and boldness of the PFLP cells in the territories
under the command of Abu Ali Mustafa during the current wave
of violence, especially the use of car bombs, a new hallmark
of the organization's activities which he introduced in order
to maximize the number of victims claimed by the organization.
In addition, the organization has worked to use the citizens
of East Jerusalem for terrorist activities and has established
a groundwork of abetters among the citizens of East Jerusalem
with the intent of utilizing the unrestricted freedom of
movement enjoyed by the residents of East Jerusalem and their
knowledge of potential target sites in Israel and especially
In the last few days Abu Ali Mustafa was engaged, together
with other prominent leaders of the military wing of the PFLP,
in planning and preparation of additional bombing attacks,
intended to be carried out within the immediate future.
Zabri was on a list of terrorists to be targeted by Israel
that was drawn up following the Dolphinarium attack on June 1,
a senior diplomatic official said Monday night.
According to this official, the list was checked and approved
by the security cabinet, which at its meeting following the
Dolphinarium attack authorized the IDF to strike back with
quick responses, defend the roads, and engage in "active self-
defense," meaning to kill terrorists in order to prevent them
from carrying out their plans.
A number of cabinet ministers, including Foreign Minister
Shimon Peres, were reportedly unhappy that the decision was
made to target Zabri without bringing it up at the security
cabinet. However an Israeli official said that the entire list
was approved in June and "in this kind of a war, where real-
time intelligence is touch and go, you have to get agreement
in principle, and when the chance to act presents itself, you
act. There was no question in the cabinet over who Mustafa
was. His resume was soaked with blood."
Zabri, the official said, "was an arch-terrorist who never
changed his way after he was allowed into the territories. He
was preparing new suicide bomb squads, and was preparing the
human infrastructure that would make it easier to place bombs
Zibri's daughter Hayfa, 24, said: "Abu Ali was not a father
only for me and my brothers, he was a father of all the
Palestinian people. He wanted to die for the sake of Palestine
and he achieved what he wanted."
Ra'anan Gissin, a senior aid to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon,
dismissed charges that Zabri's killing would lead to an
escalation in the violence. "Even if we would not have taken
him out, the Palestinians would have escalated the violence,"
According to Gissin, Zabri was deeply involved in plans for
suicide bombers, which -- had they been carried out -- would
have necessarily elicited a strong Israeli reaction.
"Not only did this save the lives of scores of women and
children [who may have been killed in suicide bombing
attacks], but it actually prevented escalation because this
man had a pivotal role in instigating suicide attacks that
would have led to a harsh retaliation and an escalation,"
Gissin said. "Now it will take some time for the terrorists to
get to the level they were at before, especially since they
now have to worry about having to defend themselves. This all
hampers their ability to launch effective attacks."
According to Oren Shachor, a retired IDF major-general writing
in the Jerusalem Post, prime minister Ariel Sharon's
security plan is a methodical elimination of the middle-rank
Palestinian military leadership. Attacks are not directed at
the top echelon of Marwan Barghouti or Muhammad Dahlan, but
one level down; especially at extremist groups such as Hamas
and Islamic Jihad, but without ignoring groups such as Fatah
and its Tanzim.
According to Shachor, this policy will only prove effective if
accompanied with large-scale strikes at Palestinian targets in
Area A, with less use being made of aircraft and more of
special ground units that will move in and out freely,
eliminating bases and terrorist targets, and damaging the
Palestinians' economic assets if need be.
Shachor wrote: "If the Palestinian leadership is to stop and
think again whether violence is the proper means of achieving
diplomatic objectives, it is important that the IDF's
reprisals be harsher -- the sort that endanger the very
existence of the Palestinian Authority."
The targeting of Zabri sent shock waves through Palestinian
organizations and the Arab world, which quickly vowed to
avenge his death. "By this sinful crime, the Israeli
government has set the stage for a full-scale, unlimited war,"
the Palestinian Authority said in a statement.
However many observers said that there is nothing that the
Palestinians could do that they have not yet tried.
The defense establishment firmly stood behind the decision to
liquidate Zabri, saying the PFLP was increasing its attacks
and he was personally was behind the terrorist squads and
responsible for many bombings.
"Whoever hits us and plans attacks and carries them out will
be hit. This is our duty," said a defense official.