- The Washington Times - Monday, August 27, 2001

RAMALLAH, West Bank Israeli helicopters fired two rockets at the office of a senior PLO leader today, killing him in what Israel said was a targeted attack in retaliation for several bombings. The Palestinians said Israel was waging “all-out war'' against them.

Mustafa Zibri, 63, widely known as Abu Ali Mustafa, was the highest-ranking Palestinian official killed in a targeted Israeli attack in 11 months of fighting.

Mr. Zibri, who led the second-largest PLO faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was also one of the most senior PLO figures to be killed since Israeli commandos shot dead PLO military chief Khalil Al-Wazir in his Tunis home in 1988.

The Palestinian Authority held the United States indirectly responsible for the killing of Zibri and accused Israeli of escalating violence that claimed the lives of seven Israelis and four Palestinians over the weekend.

Later today, an Israeli was shot in the head in a Palestinian shooting ambush on a car near the Jewish settlement of Elon Moreh, and a settler spokesman said the man was in critical condition. The PFLP claimed responsibility for the shooting.

Shots were also fired this evening from the West Bank town of Beit Jalla at the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo, built on land Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed to Jerusalem. Gilo has been a frequent target of Palestinian shooting attacks. Last week, the Israeli defense minister said he would not tolerate more shootings, and suggested Israel would take harsh action.

At the time of the helicopter attack, Mr. Zibri was sitting at his desk in his second-floor Ramallah apartment which doubled as PFLP headquarters. Rockets came through two corner windows, decapitating Zibri and scorching the office.

“We found his body in a chair,'' said Ehab Younis, 55, a PFLP official who was in the room next to Zibri's and was lightly injured.

Mr. Zibri's chair was soaked with blood and his desk was shattered. Business cards were scattered across the floor. Smoke blackened the facade of the building, which is near Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah.

Three Palestinian-American families live in the apartment building. Leana Al Quaddumi, 15, of Manassas, Va., said she was doing the laundry when the missiles hit. “I heard the whole house shaking under my feet. I was terrified to death. Glass started flying around me. I started screaming, and then I left the house, running outside,'' said Leana, whose family moved to the West Bank three years ago from Virginia.

Israeli Cabinet Minister Ephraim Sneh said Mr. Zibri was involved in seven bomb attacks in the past six months, was planning more bombings and was a “legitimate and necessary target.'' The army said no one was killed in those bomb attacks.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat announced a three-day mourning period. Upon hearing the news of Mr. Zibri's death, a shaken Mr. Arafat withdrew to his office for about half an hour, his aides said.

Thousands of angry Palestinians poured into the streets of West Bank towns, vowing revenge. In Arabe, Mr. Zibri's home village in the northern West Bank, about 5,000 people marched, led by gunmen firing in the air.

Mr. Zibri's widow, Khitam, 55, who was in Amman, Jordan, cried hysterically when receiving the news, then shouted: “His blood will not go wasted.''

Mrs. Zibri later traveled to the West Bank to participate in the funeral, to be held tomorrow in Ramallah.

The Palestinian Authority said in a statement that “with its latest criminal act, the Israeli government confirms that it has decided to open the doors to an all-out war.''

Nabil Aburdeneh, an Arafat adviser, accused President Bush of a pro-Israeli bias that, Mr. Aburdeneh said, encouraged Israel to carry out the killing.

“This policy of assassinations which is being conducted with a green light from the United States will push the area into a new cycle of violence and danger,'' Mr. Aburdeneh said.

The United States has condemned pinpointed killings. However, Mr. Bush has been sharply critical of Arafat, saying he could do more to rein in militants.

About 50 Palestinians have been killed in pinpointed Israeli attacks in the last 11 months, most of them militants suspected of involvement in attacks on Israelis. Some of the victims have been bystanders, including two children.

Mr. Zibri returned to the West Bank from exile in 1999, and was described as one of five top figures in the PLO. He became leader of the PFLP last year, taking over from the group's founder, George Habash, who lives in Damascus, Syria.

The PFLP opposes peace talks with Israel as ineffective, but does not advocate establishing a Palestinian state in Israel's place, as Islamic militants do.

Mr. Sneh, who serves as transport minister and is a retired general, said that Zibri turned the PFLP “back into what it was in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, an active and deadly terrorist organization.'' Recent bombings carried out by the PFLP “were all his work,'' Mr. Sneh told Israel army radio.

The Israeli army said in a statement that the rocket attack was an “initiated action'' and that Zibri was had been planning to carry out more bomb attacks.

The killing of Mr. Zibri sparked outrage in the Arab world.

Jordanian Information Minister Saleh Qallab said it was a “crazy, treacherous and immoral act of aggression'' that would lead to more bloodshed. In three Palestinian refugee camps near the southern Lebanese town of Tyre, black banners and ribbons fluttered from buildings in a show of mourning.

Earlier today, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said he would press to arrange truce talks with Arafat, despite the violent weekend.

However, Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said such contacts had been called off. “Can anybody think of negotiations now with these assassins and killers in the Israeli government?'' Mr. Abed Rabbo said.

Speaking in Austria today, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said the violent weekend meant there is more need for the two sides to talk, not less.

“When the killings are going on is when you need to talk,'' Annan said. “I am worried that if we don't contain the crisis, it could spread.''

The weekend began with two Palestinian militants infiltrating an isolated Israeli army base in the Gaza Strip before dawn Saturday, killing three Israeli soldiers and wounding seven before being shot to death.

Last night, an Israeli was shot and killed as he made a business transaction with a Palestinian at the edge of the West Bank, near the Palestinian town of Tulkarem.


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