Arafat Blames Syria, Libya for Terrorism
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Syria and Libya are behind the recent rash of terrorist strikes in the Mediterranean and Europe and are trying to discredit the Palestine Liberation Organization and hinder Arab negotiations with Israel, PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat said in a published interview.
Arafat, in an interview published in Sunday’s editions of the Washington Post, also said the United States, by refusing to negotiate with PLO officials, has stalled the Middle East peace process and helped create an environment in which radical young Palestinians are easily recruited for terrorist operations by Arab intelligence agencies.
The Post said the interview was conducted at the end of last week in one of the chairman’s safe houses in Tunis, Tunisia.
Israel has blamed the PLO for recent attacks and hijackings, citing the organization’s history of terrorism. But in November, following the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, Arafat condemned terrorism against unarmed civilians except in Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Arafat called Abu Nidal, believed to be a key figure in several recent terrorist attacks, a ″tool for some Arab intelligence services.″
Abu Nidal, whose real name is Sabri Banna and who broke with Arafat in 1974, heads a group believed to have hijacked the Egyptair jet to Malta in November and conducted the Dec. 27 airport attacks in Vienna and Rome.
″He is only a front for these Arab services, nothing more,″ Arafat said. ″Now he is working for the Syrians and Libyans.″
Sixty people died in the Egyptair hijacking after Egyptian commandos stormed the plane, and 19 people were killed and more than 100 wounded in the airport shootouts. One man, American Leon Klinghoffer, died in the cruise ship hijacking.
Arafat said the PLO had received information about radio discussions between the four Achille Lauro hijackers and Syrian officials when the ship was off the Syrian coast. The hijackers were gathering the American passengers to send them ashore, which Arafat said showed Syrian intelligence was involved.
The plan was abandoned at the last minute under orders by Syrian President Hafez Assad following diplomatic intervention by the American and Italian governments, Arafat said.
Syria has denied involvement in the ship’s hijacking. The four hijackers are awaiting trial in Italy.
American, Israeli and Italian authorities have alleged that Mohammed Abul Abbas, head of the PLO-related Palestine Liberation Front, masterminded the Achille Lauro hijacking. But Arafat said that Abbas has disappeared and that the PLO has not been able to determine his role in the affair.
Arafat said that even though young Palestinians may have been involved in the hijackings and airport attacks, Palestinian organizations were not involved.
″These countries are using Palestinian names, but they are not Palestinian organizations,″ he said. ″Because of the Palestinian tragedy it is easy to find individuals, some elements here, some elements there, to use.″
He added, ″Those (Arab) intelligence services are exploiting the despair, the hopelessness, the tragic living conditions in which the Palestinians are obliged to exist.″
Arafat said that over the last 10 years, there has ″been no response″ by the United States to Arab and Palestinian moves toward compromise.
He mentioned the Saudi King Fahd’s 10-point peace plan following an Arab summit in 1982 in Fez, and the agreement last Feb. 11 between Arafat and King Hussein for a joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation for U.S.-sponsored negotiations with Israel.
″What was the result?″ Arafat said. ″It was as if we had offered nothing, although before that everyone was pushing us, pushing the Palestinians, the Arabs, to accept these peace projects.″