Ahmed Jibril, Founder of Palestinian Group Who Killed Dozens of Israeli Civilians, Dies at 83

Jibril was the initiator of a 1985 prisoner exchange deal that saw the release of 1,150 convicted terrorists, including future leaders of the first intifada

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Ahmed Jibril in Beirut, 2002.
Ahmed Jibril in Beirut, 2002.Credit: REUTERS/ Mohamed Azakir
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Ahmed Jibril, founder of the Syria-based Popular Front for the  Liberation of Palestine – General Command organization, died Wednesday at the age of 83 in a Damascus hospital. 

Born near Jaffa in 1938, Jibril and his family left for Syria in 1948. He studied at the Egyptian Military Academy in Cairo, graduating in 1959, before returning to Syria and serving in the Syrian military until 1963.

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Jibril founded the PFLP-GC in 1968 after splitting from the PFLP, and opposed any negotiations or diplomacy with Israel. The split was the result of a rift between Jibril and PFLP founder George Habash. After the split, Jibril joined the Palestine Liberation Organization, but quit in 1984 following disagreements with the organization's leader, Yasser Arafat. 

The PFLP-GC was a relatively small organization, which drew publicity by committing some of the most well-known attacks in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 1970, the group bombed a Swissair plane, killing 38, including 15 Israelis. That same year, the organization committed a shooting attack on a bus carrying children on the Israel-Lebanon border, killing 12 passengers, including eight children. In 1974, members of the PFLP-GC penetrated Kiryat Shmona and killed 18 Israelis. In 1987, members of the PFLP-GC penetrated Israel by using hand gliders, with one of them landing in the northern town of Kiryat Shmona and killing six Israeli soldiers. 

The group gained prestige among Palestinian nationals following a prisoner-exchange deal that saw the release of 1,150 convicted terrorists in exchange for three Israeli soldiers in 1985, an exchange dubbed "the Jibril deal." 

Among those released in the deal were Kozo Okamoto, a Japanese national who took part in the 1972 Lod Airport massacre, as well as Ahmed Yassin, the co-founder of Hamas, and Fatah leader Jibril Rajoub. Those released included leaders of the first intifada, which broke out two years later. 

Jibril's son, Jihad, was killed in a 2002 targeted killing in Lebanon, with his father accusing Israel of being behind it. In recent years, his organization did not have a significant presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Jibril's approach over the past few years was controversial in the Palestinian sphere, as he fully allied himself with Bashar Assad's regime in Syria. His fighters fought alongside Syrian soldiers, including against rebels in the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk. The PFLP-GC has claimed that Israel has attempted to assassinate him several times, both in Syria and in Lebanon. 

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