Smallest PLO Faction Known for Eccentric Attacks
BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ The Palestine Liberation Front to which hijackers of an Italian cruise ship claim they belong is a small, splintered faction known for launching a series of unsuccessful airborne operations against Israel in hot-air balloons and hang-gliders.
The Palestine Liberation Front believes in escalating the armed struggle against Israel rather than seeking a negotiated settlement to the 37-year-old Arab-Israeli conflict. It is one of the eight guerrilla groups that comprise the Palestine Liberation Organization, but it split into three factions during the 1983 revolt inside the PLO against Chairman Yasser Arafat.
One faction, headed by PLF founder Mohammed Abbas, is backed by Iraq and remains loyal to Arafat. The other two factions oppose Arafat and are backed by Libya and Syria.
The hijackers of the Italian ship have not said which faction they belong to, but Arafat aides said the attack was not carried out by their followers.
Abbas, who uses the code name Abul Abbas, founded the Marxist-oriented PLF in 1976 during the Lebanese civil war when he broke away from another PLO group, the Libyan-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-Gener al Command.
In 1981, the PLF launched the PLO’s first air attacks against Israel in an operation it said was masterminded by Abul Abbas, a husky, dark-haired, Syrian-born Palestinian.
The first operation was on March 7, 1981, when a guerrilla flew a motorized hang-glider from south Lebanon to northern Israel in an attempt to rocket an oil refinery near Haifa.
The attack was a failure. The gliding guerrilla was arrested by the Israelis, after he had eluded their radar.
Another PLF glider pilot failed to cross the border the same day and was captured by Israeli-backed militiamen in south Lebanon.
On April 16, 1981, another PLF squad took off from south Lebanon in a hot- air balloon.
The Israelis said troops spotted the balloon drifting south from Lebanon and shot it down. Two guerrillas survived the crash but were killed in a shootout with Israeli troops.
Since its creation, the PLF has been described as one of the most radical of the Palestinian factions. Like most other PLO groups, the PLF suffered a severe blow during the 1983 Syrian-backed mutiny against Arafat.
The majority of the 1,500 PLF guerrillas have remained loyal to Abul Abbas and have sided with Arafat against the rebels.
Another PLF leader, Talaat Yacoub, is backed by Syria and has sided with the mutineers. He has about 200 followers.
The third and smallest wing is based in Libya and is headed by Abdel-Fattah Ghanem, a member of the PLF Politburo.