Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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10 Ellul 5761 - August 29, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Head of PFLP Attacked and Killed
by M Plaut and Yated Ne'eman Staff

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 1988.

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 these:

* 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 assumed leadership.

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 against Israel.

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 Israel.

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 Jerusalem.

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 in Jerusalem."

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," he said.

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.


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