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Ahmad Jibril, head of Syria-based Palestinian terror group PFLP-GC, dead at 83

Jibril’s group responsible for deadly terror attacks against Israelis, a famous prisoner exchange that saw 1,150 Palestinian security prisoners freed; PA’s Abbas sends condolences

Head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command Ahmad Jibril attends a conference in Tehran, Iran, February 21, 2017. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)
Head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command Ahmad Jibril attends a conference in Tehran, Iran, February 21, 2017. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

Ahmad Jibril, the leader of a major Palestinian terrorist group, died in a Damascus hospital on Wednesday night, Lebanese media reported.

Jibril, the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — General Command, was 83. The PFLP-GC is classified by the United States, Israel and the European Union as a terror group; attacks by Jibril’s group led to the deaths of dozens of Israelis over the years.

Among the group’s attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians were 1970’s bombing of Swissair Flight 330 that killed 47 people; a 1970 attack on an Israeli school bus that killed 12, most of them children; 1974’s Kiryat Shmona massacre of 16 people; and 1987’s ‘Night of the Gliders,’ in which members of the group flew into an Israeli base and killed six soldiers.

The group has not successfully conducted terror attacks against Israelis for some time, and it is not currently considered a serious threat. It has been blamed for sporadic rocket attacks on Israel from Lebanon, though none that caused serious damage.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas paid his condolences to Jibril’s replacement as PFLP-GC leader, Talal Naji, the official PA WAFA news agency reported.

“His Eminence, in a telephone call, also provided his condolences to Badr Jibril, the son of the deceased, praying to God Almighty, to cover him with his vast mercy, that [Jibril] dwell in his vast gardens, and grant his family and relatives patience and solace,” Abbas’s office said in a statement carried by WAFA.

Senior Palestinian Authority official Hussein al-Sheikh mourned Jibril’s passing on Twitter.

“Our deepest condolences to our comrades in the General Command and to the Palestinian people on the death of the Palestinian leader Ahmed Jibril,” al-Sheikh wrote.

In this file photo taken on January 23, 2008, the secretary-general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, Ahmed Jibril, attends the opening session of the national conference of Damascus-based Palestinian groups in the Syrian capital. (RAMZI HAIDAR / AFP)

Born in a small town near Jaffa in 1938, Jibril’s family ended up in Syria following the establishment of Israel a decade later. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled in the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, which Palestinians call the Nakba, literally meaning “catastrophe.”

Jibril lived in Syria for most of the rest of his life, briefly serving as an officer in the Syrian Army in the 1950s. In 1959, he founded a small paramilitary organization known as the Palestinian Liberation Front.

Jibril later co-founded the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine alongside George Habash in 1967. But he broke off almost immediately to found the PFLP-GC as a separate faction. The United States and the European Union classify both as terrorist organizations.

The terror leader was best known by Israelis and Palestinians alike for his role in setting up the so-called “Jibril Deal,” one of the largest prisoner exchanges in the history of the conflict.

Under the terms of the 1985 agreement, some 1,150 Palestinian security prisoners were released in exchange for three Israeli soldiers — Yosef Grof, Nissim Salem, and  Hezi Shai — held by the PFLP-GC. Some were notorious terrorists such as Kozo Okamoto, a Japanese radical who had taken part in the 1972 Lod Airport Massacre, which claimed the lives of 26 victims.

Other prisoners released under the terms of the deal would significantly shape the future of the Israeli-Palestinian arena. Jibril Rajoub, a young Fatah activist, later became the movement’s secretary-general, a position he holds to this today. Sheikh Ahmad Yassin would go on to become the spiritual leader of the Hamas terror group. And Abdullah Nimr Darwish, then a young radical who had experienced a change of heart in prison, founded the moderate Southern Islamic Movement and the Islamist Ra’am party.

In recent years, Jibril was a staunch supporter of Iran’s ally Syrian President Bashar Assad, and PFLP-GC members reportedly fought alongside the Syrian regime during the country’s ongoing civil war.

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