• Short Summary

    The rebellion by a growing faction of Palestinian guerrillas against Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) chairman, Yasser Arafat, is complicating Middle East peace efforts and could affect the regional balance of power, according to diplomats in Beirut.

  • Description

    CHTAURA, LEBANON, MAY 31, 1983: SV & GV Arafat meets Hani al-Hassan and Abu Hajim and they talk. (2 SHOTS)

    Background: The rebellion by a growing faction of Palestinian guerrillas against Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) chairman, Yasser Arafat, is complicating Middle East peace efforts and could affect the regional balance of power, according to diplomats in Beirut. The fighting between rival PLO factions in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon on June 4-5, emphasises the gravity of the Palestinian split. Diplomats believe that, after the outbreak of violence, a peaceful solution to the revolt against Arafat's leadership is now unlikely and he will have to reconsider his strategy. Arafat, as leader of the al-Fatah guerrilla group, in which the rebellion is centred, is now under extreme pressure to put down the revolt or accede to the rebel's demands for a tougher line in the Middle East.

    SYNOPSIS: In an attempt to counter the internal rebellion, Arafat has made several visits to the PLO camps dotted among Syrian positions in the Bekaa Valley. On May 31, with a close adviser, Hani al-Hassan, Arafat went to Chtaura on the Beirut-Damascus road, to meet Abu Hajim, whose promotion touched off the rebellion. Arafat had promoted Abu Hajim, and Haj Ismail to senior command positions in the Bekaa and north Lebanon. The appointments were later rescinded. Both men have been discredited, accused of cowardice during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon last year, when they allegedly deserted their forces. The rebellion soon took a political and then violent turn. Eight people died and at least 17 were injured during the running battles between rival PLO groups in the Bekaa.

    The rift fomented by al-Fatah dissidents which threatens Arafat's hitherto undisputed position of power, is a far cry from the jubilant celebrations on the 18th anniversary of al-Fatah's founding. In Beirut, on New Year's Eve, 1981, happy crowds danced through the streets. Arafat founded al-Fatah in 1959; it's a group with a broad nationalist ideology. The PLO is a coalition of eight groups, a result of many divisions in the past but these divisions have been between the various radical factions, no within the centrist Fatah itself. Al-Fatah makes up about 80 per cent of the PLO, so a split there means a split in the whole organisation.

    The carnage at the Palestinian refugee camps at Sabra and Shatila in Beirut last September ... an enduringly horrific memory of the events which followed the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June, last year. Arafat has maintained that the battle of Beirut was a victory for the PLO, which did not require any changes in leadership or military command.

    Since he left Beirut last year, Arafat has been trying to direct the guerrilla campaign in the Bekaa Valley from his base in Tunis, and relying on his commanders among the numerous units. Because of his continuing foud with President Hafez al-Assed of Syria, Arafat refused to move to Damascus or the Syrian-controlled parts of Lebanon where most of his fighters are based. When he left Beirut, he swore the PLO would gain its independence and be free of the pressures from other Arab nations. The exodus from Beirut last August scattered PLO guerrillas to nine different Arab countries, where they remain out on a limb as concerns any concerted action plans.

    Since leaving Beirut, Arafat has launched massive international diplomatic drive. In September last year, he visited Italy, meeting Pope John Paul -- a move which outraged Jewish communities and brought stinging criticism from the Israeli government. While in Rome, he addressed the Italian Parliament.

    In his 14-year leadership, Arafat has guided the PLO through many crises and emerged as a major force in Middle East and world politics. In November, 1974, he strode onto the rostrum at the United Nations General Assembly, gun-belt firmly on his hip. He declared he had come bearing an olive branch and a freedom-fighter's gun-- "Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand", he warned. Nearly nine years later, the words seem ironic; his "olive-branch" policies are bitterly decried by his opponents.

    Yasser Arafat, the 52-year-old charismatic leader who appears equally at home greeting Palestinian children or organising military operations. As a teenager he fought in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The years since have been dedicated to the Palestinian cause. He is facing a critical challenge, fighting for his political life. There have been splits in the PLO in the past but Arafat has always been treated with great respect even by the most radical of hard-liners. This is no longer the case. If he cannot contain the rebellion, his political future, that of the PLO and the Middle East may well see dramatic changes.

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