Three explosions shook Lebanon’s eastern region of Bekaa early yesterday, in what was an apparent Israeli raid on positions held by a Palestinian militant group.
The strike against the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command came as Israel stepped up attacks on Iran-backed groups in the region. A pro-Syrian militant group, the PFLP-GC was formed in 1968 by Ahmad Jibril as an offshoot of the Marxist-Leninist PFLP.
Born near Haifa in 1939, Jibril fled to Syria after the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 and became an officer in the Syrian army, said Anis Mohsen, a Palestinian journalist and human rights activist in Beirut.
In 1965, Syrian intelligence helped him establish an armed group called the Palestinian Liberation Front. Jibril entered negotiations to be part of the unified PFLP but withdrew before it was officially created in 1967 and established the PFLP-GC.
In its five-decade history, the PFLP-GC developed a name as a troublemaker in Lebanon and Syria.
“They never had a good reputation,” Mr Mohsen said. The group has been involved in several conflicts in which it sided with the regimes of Hafez and Bashar Al Assad in Syria.
The militants entered the 1975 Lebanese civil war – which raged for 15 years – on the side of the Syrians, gaining notoriety for looting gold from banks in central Beirut, Mr Mohsen said.
The group also fought against Palestine Liberation Organisation leader Yasser Arafat when he returned to Lebanon in 1983 after being ousted from Beirut the year before. Unlike the PLO, the PFLP-GC does not recognise any peace agreement with Israel.
After Lebanon’s civil war ended in 1990, the PFLP-GC was one of only two Palestinian factions to refuse to disarm, the other being Fatah Al Intifada.
Jibril’s son, Jihad, was killed in a car bombing in Beirut in 2002. His father accused Israel of being behind the murder, but Israel rejected the claim.
Despite being armed, the PFLP-GC’s military power in Lebanon is limited, paling in comparison with its ally Hezbollah, another organisation that also refused to disarm after the civil war.
The PFLP-GC maintains a small presence in Palestinian camps and has bases in Lebanon such as Naameh and Qusaya, where yesterday’s attack took place.
The PFLP-GC has also fought alongside Syrian regime forces since the start of the civil war.
“The PFLP-GC is not important without Hezbollah and Syrian support. I think they were targeted because Israel wanted to send a message that it could attack any of Hezbollah’s allies,” Mr Mohsen said.
The Israelis may also have been showing how easily it could hit the Qusaya region, an important smuggling route between Lebanon and Syria for Hezbollah.
“Because the attack was on the border with Syria, it could have targeted Hezbollah’s logistics, such as a shipment of weapons from Iran,” said Aymenn Al Tamimi, an independent analyst.
The last time Israel struck the PFLP-GC in Lebanon was in 2013, after a group affiliated to Al Qaeda fired four rockets into Israel. The PFLP-GC denied any involvement in the attack.