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January 21, 2003

Dumber than dumb. Palestinian group rips US for chasing Achille Lauro terrorist

The pro-Iraqi Palestinian Liberation Front Party on Monday accused the US of trying to foil an inter Palestinian dialogue conference scheduled to be held in Cairo Wednesday by chasing the group's leader for his role in the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro. Muhammed Abbas, head of the PLF, was in Cairo last week when the US approached Egypt asking if reports were true that he had been invited to participate in talks on a possible cease-fire with Israel. Abbas, who is also known as Abu Abbas, was forced to leave Cairo hurriedly to avoid embarrassing the Egyptian government. He is wanted in both the US and Italy for his role in the 1985 hijacking of the ship and the killing of an elderly American Jew. Dr. Wasel Abu Yusef, a senior member of the PLF in Ramallah, said the American intervention in the case of Abbas was an attempt to thwart the Cairo talks. "This is a clear American-Israeli attempt to thwart the sessions of dialogue between the different Palestinian factions in order to give [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon more time to implement his bloody and liquidation scheme against our cause," Abu Yusef said. He ridiculed the US State department for announcing that Washington had asked the Egyptian authorities for clarifications following a report in The Jerusalem Post to the effect that Abbas was in Cairo for talks with senior officials. "We feel very bitter and outraged at the American stance," Abu Yusef added. He pointed out that Abbas, who is based in Baghdad, has been touring Arab countries several times since the hijacking. In 1996, he added, Abbas visited the West Bank and Gaza Strip without facing any problem. Abbas later returned to the West Bank and Gaza Strip with the knowledge of Israel and the US. "I have no idea why the Americans have suddenly decided to reopen this case," said Abu Yusef, who was banned by Israel from leaving to Egypt to join Abbas. "This raises many suspicions. The US is making cruel exploitation of the September 11 attacks [in New York and Washington] to level any accusation it wants against fighters or even eliminating them. This is an exposed American attempt to de-legitimize our struggle and our historic leadership in order to serve Israel and provide a cover-up for its strategic alliance with the US." He also denied Israeli allegations that the PLF was involved in a plot to fire rockets at planes in Ben Gurion Airport. Israel said last year that it had uncovered a terror cell belonging to the PLF that was planning to stage to attack the airport. "This is an attempt by Sharon to use the name of the PLF to try and link Iraq to terrorism after they failed to find weapons of mass destruction in that country," the PLF official said. Abu Yusef said he didn't know if the PLF would participate in Wednesday's parley following the US threats to arrest Abbas. "We support a responsible dialogue that would lead to an agreement which would enhance the steadfastness of our people and enable them to face the grave challenges that are expected to arise in the aftermath of an American aggression against Iraq," he explained. In Gaza, several Palestinian organizations issued a statement Monday strongly condemning the US for pressuring the Egyptians to boycott Abbas. The statement said the American intervention was part of "recurring American attempts to distort the image of the Palestinian struggle and defame its leaders and symbols."