Known globally for ordering an attack in which a wheelchair-bound Jewish American tourist was shot and thrown overboard from a cruiseliner, Muhammad Abbas nevertheless was eulogized by Palestinians this week as a “great national fighter.”


Abu Abbas

The leader of the Palestine Liberation Front terrorist group, who died in a U.S. prison in Baghdad, was buried Tuesday in Syria.

He was responsible for the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro in Italy in which Leon Klinghoffer was killed.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat mourned the death of Abbas in an announcement on behalf of the Palestinian leadership reported the official daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute.

“The Palestinian leadership bids farewell to a unique fighter; a national leader who devoted his life to serving his people and his homeland,” the statement said.

Abbas was a top member of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization until 1991 and was known to have been in Baghdad off and on for many years.

Palestinian media also reported Arafat received condolences on his death in the presidential office in Ramallah.

Some tributes, particularly by PLF members, accused the United States of killing Abbas and vowed to avenge his death. One called for the assassination of President Bush.

A communiqu? issued by Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement read: “Fatah announces the death of the great national leader, the Shahid [martyr] Muhammad Abbas – Abu Al-Abbas – the Palestine Liberation Front secretary-general who died a martyr in an American prison in Baghdad under unclear circumstances. Fatah calls for an urgent investigation under international supervision, particularly since Abu Al-Abbas was being held in dangerous and inhumane conditions that directly harmed his life … .”

The Fatah statement said its “commitment remains unchanged, and [our] vow remains in force. We continue marching on the path of revolution and of just national struggle until victory is realized and an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital is established. To eternal Paradise, our hero Shahid – Abu Al-Abbas!”

Rashid Abu Shbak who heads the Preventive Security Apparatus in Gaza, expressed his deep sorrow “on the death of the great national fighter,” according to the Palestinian publication Al-Ayyam.

The National and Islamic Forces also published a communiqu?, promising to follow in the path of Abu Al-Abbas: “The martyrdom of Abu Al-Abbas will only add to our people and to its national and Islamic determination to continue the struggle in the same path [as he], and to cling to the same goals for which the great commander was martyred.”

Abbas’ PLF had a similar demand, calling for establishment of a medical committee “to expose the circumstances of the martyrdom” of its secretary general, adding: “We bid farewell today to our commander and secretary general, the Shahid Abu Al-Abbas, who played a prominent role in the history of the Palestinian struggle for 40 years, from his youth to his martyrdom. He took part in the various stations [along the way] of the national struggle, by establishing the fighting front and heading it … .”

Palestine Liberation Front spokesman and political bureau member Dr. Wasel Abu Yousef blamed the Bush administration for Abbas’ death, insisting he was “held hostage with no reason or pretext, without being accused of any charge and without being tried.”

Muhammad Zeidan, who told the London -based Arabic daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat he had been the personal companion and confidant of Abbas, expressed hope the response to his “assassination” would be the assassination of President George Bush.

“Abu Al-Abbas was dearer to me than my home and my wife,” he said. “I spent the most beautiful days of my struggle for Palestine with him, and from him I learned about resistance and patience.”

The director-general of the Culture Ministry office, Ahmad Dahbour, wrote about Abbas in a column in the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida.

“Abu Al-Abbas chose original and extraordinary means to reach Palestine, such as a hang-glider, a balloon and [rubber] boats, [and using these carried out] quality operations. Finally it came – his crazy idea that took the world by storm: To hijack a big Italian ship – the Achille Lauro – that was en route to Haifa … .”

In a tribute to Abu Al-Abbas in the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, the intellectual Muhammad ‘Aloush wrote: “With Abu Al-Abbas’ death, we have lost one of the symbols of the Palestinian struggle who does not accept dictates and remains faithful to the liberation [of Palestine] and resistance to the occupation. Abu Al-Abbas remains one of the national Palestinian [vital] foundations and one of the prominent roots of the dream that will ultimately be realized, sooner or later – the establishment of an independent sovereign Palestinian state whose capital is Jerusalem, and the finding of a just solution to the matter of the refugees which will include the promise of the right of return … .”

Abbas, believed to be in his early 60s, had been in U.S. custody since April when U.S. troops near Baghdad arrested him as he tried to flee to Syria.

Abbas was never indicted in the United States for the hijacking of the Achille Lauro, which was sailing from Egypt to Israel. But he was convicted in abstentia in Italy where there was an outstanding warrant for him. The 1985 ordeal ended when Egypt organized safe passage for the hijackers and the release of the surviving passengers.

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