Editor’s note: To view the accompanying article “PFLP-GC military buildup stokes fears of clashes” click here
BEIRUT: The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command has long been viewed by the Lebanese populace as a trouble-making organization for its role in the Lebanese Civil War as well as being the only Palestinian faction that completely ignored the 1989 Taif Accord and refused disarmament outside the camps. While the PFLP-GC generally ceased operations against Israel from southern Lebanon in the 1980s, the group continues to spur tensions in Lebanon with its unabashed support of the Syrian regime, leading it to engage with Syrian rebel and militant groups in the Bekaa Valley on multiple occasions over the last couple of years. The most recent clash occurred in October this year when the PFLP-GC clashed with militants alleged to be part of the Al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front.
The PFLP-GC’s main headquarters is still located in Damascus, thoughthe faction has had military bases in Lebanon for nearly 40 years. Today, the PFLP-GC has a presence in Palestinian camps, including Ain al-Hilweh (Sidon), Burj al-Barajneh (Beirut’s suburbs) and Baddawi (Tripoli). It is also the only Palestinian faction that maintains military bases outside the camps in areas including Naameh (south of Beirut) and the Bekaa Valley towns of Sultan Yaqoub, Kfar Zabad, Qousaya and Hechmech.
Security sources believe that while all these bases are fortified. The Qousaya base in particular is located at the heart of a burrowing network of tunnels covered by the anti-Lebanon mountain range. These tunnels – said to be large enough for trucks to navigate – connect Lebanon to Syria, allowing the PFLP-GC to maneuver easily and clandestinely across the border.
Here is a timeline of the main events that marked the PFLP-GC presence in Lebanon:
Late 1950s/Early 1960s: Ahmad Jibril (Abu Jihad) forms the Palestine Liberation Front – made up primarily of Palestinians who had served in the Syrian army.
1960s: Backed by Syria, the PLF launches attacks from south Lebanon into Israel.
December 1967: Jibril and George Habash merge groups to form Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Jibril, a believer of armed resistance, often clashes with the leftist-ideologue Habash.
December 1968: Jibril splits from PFLP, forming PFLP-GC and establishing his headquarters in Damascus as opposed to Beirut, where most Palestinian groups are based.
1976: PFLP-GC openly endorses the Syrian Army’s intervention in Lebanon and attack on certain Palestinian factions. This leads Mahmoud Zeidan (Abu Abbas) to split and revive the PLF.
1978: PFLP-GC plants bomb in PLF’s Beirut HQ, killing 200.
1983: PFLP-GC launches attack backed by Syrian Army artillery to drive Fatah leader Yasser Arafat’s loyalists out of northern Lebanon.
1984: PFLP-GC is expelled from Palestine Liberation Organization.
1985: Nabih Berri’s Amal movement, with support from the PFLP-GC and other pro-Syrian Palestinian factions, attempts to weed out Arafat’s PLO from Palestinian refugee camps in the notorious “War of the Camps.”
1986: As the Syrian economy struggles, the PFLP-GC turns to Libya for support.
Nov. 25, 1987: Two PFLP-GC militants use motorized hang-gliders – allegedly provided by Libya – to cross from south Lebanon into northern Israel. One militant is quickly killed while the other infiltrates an Israeli army base, killing six and wounding eight before he is shot dead. The incident is often seen as a catalyst for the first Palestinian intifada.
October 1988: The Israeli army attacks a PFLP-GC base in Naameh and the surrounding areas.
1989: Libya ceases support for PFLP-GC. The group meets with then Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati and becomes the first Palestinian faction to receive funding from Tehran.
Early 1990s: Fatah members accuse PFLP-GC of assassinating a number of Fatah officials in Lebanon.
1992: PFLP-GC trains Hamas and Islamic Jihad members at training camps in Lebanon and Syria.
March 1999: PFLP-GC and other Palestinian groups attack Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine offices in Lebanon and Syria after DFLP Secretary-General Nayef Hawatmeh shakes hands with Israeli President Ezer Weizman at King Hussein’s funeral. One person is killed and several others are wounded.
1999-2000: Syria begins massive transfer of arms to PFLP-GC base in the Bekaa Valley, including Soviet T-55 tanks and other heavy weaponry.
May 20, 2000: Three days before Israel withdraws from southern Lebanon, the Israeli air force bombs PFLP-GC base in Sultan Yacoub, destroying 10 tanks and killing three members of PFLP-GC.
Jan. 26, 2001: Three PFLP-GC militants in uniform attempt to enter Lebanon’s occupied Shebaa Farms. Two are killed and one is wounded. Lebanese media later reports that then-President Emile Lahoud called Syrian President Bashar Assad to ask for Syrian assistance in halting Palestinian attacks from Lebanon.
May 7, 2001: The Santorini, a Lebanese registered ship carrying a 40-ton cache of arms, is seized by Israeli forces off its coast. Israel claims the ship departed from Syrian-occupied north Lebanon and that the PFLP-GC was behind the shipment.
March 12, 2002: Two armed militants cross from Lebanon into northern Israel and kill six Israelis before themselves being shot dead by the Israeli army. Israel suspects PFLP-GC is behind the operation.
April 4, 2002: Nine 107mm Grad rockets are fired at an Israeli radar station in the occupied Golan Heights. Lebanon deploys 400 troops to apprehend two PFLP-GC units that UNIFIL observers claim are transporting rockets by the border.
April 5, 2002: Two more rockets are fired into West Galilee injuring three Arab villagers.
April 7, 2002: United States Ambassador Vincent Battle holds talks with late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and Lebanon’s foreign and defense ministers to get a commitment to stop cross-border attacks.
April 8, 2002: PFLP-GC militants fire Katyusha rockets into Kiryat Shmona.
May 20, 2002: Jihad Ahmad Jibril, the son and planned-successor to Ahmad Jibril, is assassinated by 2 kgs of TNT strapped to the bottom of his car in west Beirut where he is studying law at the Lebanese University. Jihad led the PFLP-GC’s armed wing. His father blames Israel and Lebanese authorities arrest an alleged Israeli spy ring but no one is prosecuted.
April 2010: Intense fighting erupts at PFLP-GC’s base in the Bekaa Valley – allegedly between a dismissed local leader and supporters of Jibril.
November 2012: PFLP-GC launches rockets from south Lebanon that fail to cross border.
December 2012 and January 2013: In two separate incidents, armed men attack the PFLP-GC’s Ain al-Hilweh office, likely over the group’s support for the Assad regime in the Yarmouk camp fighting, a Palestinian refugee camp in Syria.
March 2013: PFLP-GC and Sunni Islamists fight in Ain al- Hilweh. Eleven are injured. Also this month, Jordanian media reports that Syrian rebels capture Jibril’s house in Yarmouk refugee camp where they find orders to assassinate Lebanese politicians.
April 2013: Lebanese radio reports that PFLP-GC uses its Bekaa Valley bases to launch rocket attacks on Syrian rebels. Meanwhile, clashes ensue between the Free Syrian Army and the PFLP-GC near their Bekaa Valley base in Qousaya.
June 2013: PFLP-GC is blamed for launch of a 122mm rocket fired from the Chouf into the Christian area of Kesrouan.
Aug 2013: Israeli air force targets PFLP-GC base in Naameh, south of Beirut, in retaliation to rocket attacks that are attributed to an Islamist group.
October 2014: PFLP-GC clashes with Nusra Front along the Syrian border. New PFLP-GC leadership appointed and tasked with military operations and deploying Palestinian fighters at bases in in the Bekaa Valley.