Palestinian leaders on Saturday mourned the death of former Cuban president Fidel Castro, hailing the iconic revolutionary president as a longtime supporter of the Palestinian cause and a comrade in the struggle against “Zionist imperialism.”
Castro, who died on Friday in Havana at the age of 90, was remembered by various Palestinian Authority groups for his close relationship with late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and early support of “armed resistance” against Israel.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a secular, socialist Palestinian terrorist group, was among the first organizations to mourn Castro’s death in a statement that praised the late Cuban leader for “consistently [standing] with the oppressed peoples of the world in their confrontation with imperialism, Zionism, racism and capitalism.”
“Cuba stood with the Palestinian people and their liberation movement in all facets of international struggle, building a revolutionary alliance for collective movement against imperialism, colonialism and its particular manifestation in Palestine, Zionism,” a statement posted on the PFLP website on Saturday said. “Zionism has been a key weapon of racist oppression, a fact recognized by Fidel Castro and the Cuban people and state.”
The Palestinian National Council, the Palestinian Democratic Union and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine also released statements mourning the passing of the revolutionary icon.
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According to the Palestinian news agency Ma’an, DFLP Secretary-General Nayif Hawatmeh on Saturday said “the departure of the comrade, the leader, the friend, the great revolutionist, the patriot, and the nationalist Fidel Castro is a great loss for all revolutionist and nationalist forces around the world.”
Castro, who ruled Cuba from 1959 until 2006, was a staunch supporter of Palestinian self-determination, and often leveled harsh criticism of Israel’s policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians.
In 1973, in the wake of the Yom Kippur War, Castro unilaterally cut diplomatic relations with Israel as he sought to strengthen ties with Arab states in the Non-Aligned Movement.
Castro developed close diplomatic and personal ties with Arafat, and during a 1974 visit to Havana, he awarded the Palestinian leader the Bay of Pigs Medal, one of the country’s highest decorations for his “struggle against imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism.”
In the 1980s, Castro’s Cuba supported the Palestinian Liberation Organization and provided military support for the Fatah movement as well as training for Palestinian terrorists during the First Intifada in 1987.
In 2014, he accused Israel of committing a “Palestinian Holocaust in Gaza,” and described the military offensive against Hamas and other terror groups that summer as a “new, repugnant form of fascism.”
In a brief conciliatory moment however, Castro in 2010 told American journalist Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic that Israel has “without a doubt” the right to exist as a Jewish state and that he had “nothing but sympathy” for the persecution of Jews through history.
The bearded revolutionary, who survived a crippling US trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died Friday, eight years after ill health forced him to formally hand power over to his younger brother.
Castro’s reign over the island-nation 90 miles from Florida was marked by the US-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
AP contributed to this report.