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Radical Palestinians Choose Leader

July 8, 2000

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) _ The Palestinian extremist group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, elected a new leader Saturday to replace longtime chief George Habash, a spokesman for the group said. Habash had resigned in April.

The group elected a new central committee which then elected Abu Ali Mustafa, whose real name is Mustafa Zibri, as the new secretary-general, spokesman Maher Taher said. Mustafa, for years Habash’s chief aide, was the only candidate.

The new leader is viewed as more pragmatic in dealing with Israel than his predecessor. Last year he held talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Cairo on how the PFLP can play a role in peace negotiations for a final settlement with Israel.

Habash congratulated the new leadership, Taher said, adding that his resignation ``does not mean he is leaving his struggle for the liberation of Palestine.″ Habash led the PFLP since its founding in 1967 before stepping down because of heart problems and other ailments.

Mustafa was born in the northern West Bank town of Jenin in 1938. After Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, he lived in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Last year he resettled in the Palestinian self-rule area of the West Bank.

The Damascus-based PFLP has long been on the radical fringe of the Palestinian movement and has never accepted the 1993 and 1995 Oslo accords with Israel. It rose to world notoriety in 1970 when its guerrillas hijacked three Western airliners to an airstrip in the Jordanian desert, blowing them up after evacuating the passengers.

Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak are scheduled to meet Tuesday in the United States to continue peace negotiations. The PFLP has rejected Arafat’s invitation to send delegates to the talks, saying ``the real target″ of the summit was to win more concessions from the Palestinians and that the United States was not an ``even-handed″ party.

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