- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 21, 2002

BEIRUT The son of Palestinian guerrilla leader Ahmed Jibril died yesterday in a bomb blast in Beirut that his organization blamed on Israeli intelligence agents.

Israel, which suffered its second suicide bombing attack in two days, denied that it was behind the car bombing that killed Mohammed Jihad Ahmed Jibril.

The father and son were leaders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, or PFLP-GC, a group that Israel had blamed for smuggling arms to Palestinian guerrillas on the West Bank.

The bomb exploded inside the younger Mr. Jibril's car in a Muslim neighborhood of Beirut. He was driving alone.

Ahmed Jibril told reporters in the Syrian capital of Damascus yesterday that Israeli intelligence agents had assassinated his son.

"The Mossad managed to kill Jihad this time," Mr. Jibril said. "The Israeli enemy knows he was a serious field commander. He became a martyr like so many who have fallen defending the Palestinian cause."

But in Israel, a spokesman for Defense Minister Benyamin Ben-Eliezer denied the charge.

"The defense minister says Israel is not connected and to stop blaming Israel," spokesman Yarden Vatikayi told the Associated Press in Jerusalem.

Other militant Arab groups, including Lebanon-based Hezbollah, also condemned Israel for the attack, in which no one else was wounded.

The Beirut bombing came as the cycle of revenge continued in Israel and the Palestinian territories, with a second suicide bomber in a 24-hour period.

Police said a man in blue jeans and tennis shoes, after unsuccessfully attempting to board a chartered bus, blew himself up when two patrolmen demanded his identity papers.

One policeman was hurt in the attack, which took place near the West Bank town of Jenin, a militant center of suicide bombing activity and the site of heavy fighting during last month's Israeli offensive.

On Sunday, a bomber detonated explosives in the northern Israeli city of Netanya, killing himself and three bystanders.

Within the past two weeks, a suicide bomber killed 15 in a pool hall south of Tel Aviv, and Israeli troops have stepped up arrests and brief incursions into Palestinian-controlled lands.

At least four would-be bombers recently have been apprehended by Israeli authorities or accidentally detonated their explosive belts prematurely.

In an apparent response to yesterday's and Sunday's attacks, Israeli troops raided Palestinian-ruled Tulkarm, a city in the West Bank near Netanya, and detained a Palestinian woman who planned to carry out a suicide bombing in Israel, an army spokeswoman said.

Palestinian officials said three Palestinian men, including a member of the Palestinian intelligence service, also were detained in the raid.

The assassinated Mr. Jibril, 38, was the head of military operations in Lebanon for the PFLP-GC. He received military training in Libya and was studying law at a school in Beirut.

The group does not recognize Israel's right to exist and opposes Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat for signing the Oslo agreement with the Jewish state.

PFLP-GC leaders claimed responsibility for a shipment of arms to the West Bank intercepted last May and vowed to keep arming Palestinians.

The group hijacked an El Al jetliner in 1968 and machine-gunned another at Zurich airport in 1969. In 1970, it planted a time bomb on a Swissair jet that blew up on a flight from Zurich to Tel Aviv, killing all 47 aboard.

The group also was suspected in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and some believed it initiated the plot for which a former Libyan intelligence agent was convicted.

In the late 1960s, the PFLP-GC split from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which maintained ties with Mr. Arafat.

The West Bank leader of the PFLP, Ahmed Saadat, was sheltering in Mr. Arafat's compound during the siege of Ramallah and was turned over to U.S. and British authorities this month to await trial for the suspected assassination of an Israeli Cabinet minister last year.

Israel this week blamed Mr. Saadat, who is awaiting trial in Jericho under British and U.S. guard, for setting up Sunday's suicide bombing in Netanya in a series of telephone calls. In response to Israeli charges, U.S. and British guards reportedly have revoked Mr. Saadat's telephone privileges.

Separately, Spain said yesterday that a deal had been reached on the fates of 13 Palestinian militants taken temporarily to Cyprus to end the siege of the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem.

Speaking at the sidelines of a Mediterranean conference on the island of Mykonos, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique said 12 of the 13 gunmen would be taken by Spain, Italy, Greece, Belgium, Ireland and Portugal and that one would stay on in Cyprus.

"I can confirm that tomorrow a Spanish plane will be in Cyprus and distribute the people to different countries," said Mr. Pique, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency.

The 13 have been held in a luxury seaside hotel in the Cyprus resort of Larnaca for more than a week since being exiled at the end of a 39-day siege of the Church of the Nativity.

Meanwhile, an unrelated domestic political spat plunged the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon into crisis yesterday when Mr. Sharon fired ministers of a key party from his government.

The loss of the Shas Party's 17 votes in the 120-member parliament would reduce the number supporting him from 82 to 65.

Mr. Sharon also fired deputy ministers from another party in a move that could cut his support in parliament to as few as 60 seats, a one-vote majority under Israeli law.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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