March 26, 2004 Special Dispatch No. 687

Palestinian Reactions to the Death of Abu Al-Abbas – 'The Great National Leader'

March 26, 2004
Palestine | Special Dispatch No. 687

Following the death of Palestine Liberation Front secretary-general Muhammad Abbas (Abu Al-Abbas) [1] in a U.S. prison in Baghdad where he was being held, the Palestinian media featured tributes to him, depicting him as a "great national fighter." Some of these tributes, particularly those by PLF members, accused the Americans of killing him, and expressed their desire for revenge, including one call for the assassination of President Bush. According to an official of the Palestinian representative's office in Baghdad, Abbas' body arrived in Syria for burial on March 23, 2004. [2] The following are excerpts from Palestinian reactions to Abu Al-Abbas' death:

The Palestinian Leadership

Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat mourned Abu Al-Abbas in an announcement by him and the Palestinian leadership: "The Palestinian leadership bids farewell to a unique fighter; a national leader who devoted his life to serving his people and his homeland." [3] The Palestinian media also reported that Arafat received condolences on Abu Al-Abbas's death in his presidential office in Ramallah. [4]

A communiqué issued by the 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…

"[Our] 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!" [5]

Death notices were published by several top Palestinian officials, among them Rashid Abu Shbak who heads the Preventive Security Apparatus in Gaza. Shbak expressed his deep sorrow "on the death of the great national fighter." [6]

PA Information Ministry Director-General Sa'ad Tawfiq Bsisso demanded that an international committee be established to investigate the circumstances of Abu Al-Abbas's death. [7]

Other Palestinian Organizations

The National and Islamic Forces also published a communiqué, 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." [8]

Abbas's organization, the Palestine Liberation Front, had a similar demand, calling for the 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…

"Abu Al-Abbas defended the right of the struggle of our people and [the right] to demand its rights and sovereignty on its land and homeland. We promise the Shahid commander to continue in his path, and we promise to remain faithful to his [acts of] sacrifice. Our positions, which will remain living in our conscience and in the conscience of all sons of our people, will be a torch illuminating the way of the path, until the goals of our people are achieved: return, and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital." [9]

Palestine Liberation Front spokesman and political bureau member Dr. Wasel Abu Yousef said: "Our front is proud to present its secretary general and its great founding commander as a martyr on the altar of freedom, unity, and common conscience."

Abu Yousef blamed the Bush administration for Abu Al-Abbas's death: "The Bush administration and its aggressive policy against our people and our faith … which identifies with the aggression and the oppression of the occupation – bear all the responsibility for the martyrdom of Abu Al-Abbas in the prison where he was held hostage with no reason or pretext, without being accused of any charge and without being tried." [10]

In an interview with the Israeli Arab weekly Kul Al-Arab, Abu Yousefagain blamed the Americans for the death of Abu Al-Abbas, and said that three days before his martyrdom, Abu Al-Abbas had sent him a letter via the Red Cross with the message that his health was good. This, he said, "makes us think that the Americans have committed some foul crime and killed him…"

Abu Yousef added: "This foul crime is in keeping with the all-out war waged by the occupation forces against our people and its leadership, while many of our leaders have been assassinated and others detained, and while Chairman Arafat and his Palestinian people are besieged in isolated ghettoes." [11]

Muhammad Zeidan, who told the London –based Arabic daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that he had been the personal companion and confidant of Abu Al-Abbas,expressed his hopes that 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. I spent the most beautiful days of my struggle for Palestine with him, and from him I learned about resistance and patience." According to the paper, he expressed his personal hopes that the response to the assassination of Abu Al-Abbas would be the killing of President Bush, saying: "If I am charged with carrying out this mission, I will not hesitate. Since I did not succeed in redeeming Abu Al-Abbas during his life, I will redeem him in his death." [12]

Palestinian Columnists

Columnists in the Palestinian press also wrote about the death of Abu Al-Abbas. The director-general of the Culture Ministry office, Ahmad Dahbour, wrote in his 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… [13]

In a tribute to Abu Al-Abbas in the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida,the intellectual Muhammad 'Aloush wrote: "… With Abu Al-Abbas's 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…" [14]

[1] Abu Al-Abbas is best known as the man who ordered the hijacking of the Italian luxury liner Achille Lauro in 1985, during which the wheelchair-bound elderly American Leon Klinghoffer was shot dead and thrown overboard.

[2], March 23, 2004.

[3] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority),March 11, 2003.

[4] to a report in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot of March 15, 2004, three members of the Balad party in the Knesset, among them party leader Dr. 'Azmi Bishara, offered condolences to Arafat on Abu Al-Abbas's death. While the Palestinian press noted that Bishara had met with Arafat, there was no mention of the condolences.

[5] Bethlehem demonstration that came in the wake of a call by the Bethlehem District National and Islamic Emergency Committee and the Bethlehem District Prisoners Club took up the cry to establish an independent committee to investigate the circumstances of Abu Al-Abbas's death. Al-Ayyam (PA), March 13, 2004.

[6] Al-Ayyam (PA), March 12, 2004.

[7] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), March 12, 2004.

[8] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), March 12, 2004.

[9] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), March 11, 2004.

[10] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), March 11, 2004.

[11] Kul Al-Arab (Israel), March 19, 2004. Also Abu Al-Abbas's deputy Omar Shibli emphasized the responsibility of the U.S. for the death of Abu Al-Abbas. In an interview posted on, Shibli said: "The Palestine Liberation Front will continue to blame the American forces for responsibility for the martyrdom of Abu Al-Abbas, and it will establish an international investigative committee to obtain a conclusive answer [although] it is clear that the conclusive evidence is that he was killed in solitary confinement of the Americans in Baghdad."

[12] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 13, 2004.

[13] Al-Ayyam (PA), March 13, 2004.

[14] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), March 21, 2004.

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