JERUSALEM (Oct. 20)
Force 17, the crack unit of the PLO responsible for several recent terror actions, planned to attack the Israeli diplomatic mission in Athens, Greece, according to a lengthy background paper issued here by the Foreign Ministry.
The plans were formulated in PLO headquarters in Tunisia on March 14, the paper discloses. Chairing the meeting was the Force commander, Abu Tayeb, and among those present were several officers who died in the Israel Air Force attack on the Tunisia PLO base on October I. The Athens attack failed to materialize before this, for technical reasons.
This information, remarkable for its precision, was apparently gleaned from prisoners in Israel’s hands. It is being released now as part of Israel’s information campaign designed to drive home the message that the PLO is indeed a terrorist group as confirmed by recent events in the Mideast.
At a series of meetings in Amman at the end of 1984, Abu Tayeb and other top Force 17 leaders planned to step up activity in the West Bank.
Abu Tayeb, whose full name is Mahmoud Ahmed Al-Natur, told a gathering at the posh Amman Regency Hotel that the meeting had been called at the express instructions of PLO chairman Yasir Arafat. Subsequent meetings were held, also in Jordan, with the participation of operatives living in the occupied territories who were given money and instructions.
While Abu Tayeb shuttled between Amman and Tunis preparing missions, some 600 operatives were in training in a Fatah camp near Zerka, Jordan, the Israeli paper says. These are distinct from the 1,500-man unit of the Palestine Liberation Army, which has been in Jordan since the early 1970′s.
One especially damaging revelation in the Israeli document is: In April, a planning session took place in Amman with the participation of Mohammed Milhem, the former Mayor of Halhoul in the West Bank whom Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dubbed a man of peace before the failure of the British-Jordanian-PLO meeting in London last week. The agenda at the April meeting was an attack to be carried out in Tel Aviv. Other participants included Abu Tayeb.
A similar meeting took place the month before, also with the active participation of Milhem. There the target for stepped-up attacks was to be the area around Jenin, near the Green Line (an area where there was a subsequent rash of killings and other terrorist actions).
PLO ACTIVITIES IN WEST AND EAST EUROPE
The Israeli document asserts that PLO offices in European cities are actively involved in the transfer of arms and explosives, and that official visits by PLO officials are used for the same purpose.
The same seems true in Eastern Europe. In December 1984, for instance, the paper reveals, the Rumanian authorities unearthed a sizeable arms cache in Bucharest.
The Israeli paper gives hitherto undisclosed details of failed seaborne operations.
On April 21, the Israeli navy opened fire on a vessel that had failed to respond to warning signals. Twenty men on board were killed, eight others were rescued. Their mission, it emerged from their interrogation, had been to land from rubber dinghies south of Tel Aviv, seize a bus, and head for the IDF high command complex in Tel Aviv, where they would take hostages and demand the release of 150 Fatah prisoners held in Israeli jails.
The operation was planned by Abu Jihad, one of Arafat’s top lieutenants whose full name is Halil Al-Wazir and whose record includes responsibility for the Hotel Savoy attack in 1975 in Tel Aviv and the coastal road massacre in 1978.
His title is Western Front Commander and as such he holds a key position in the planning and organization of actions inside the West Bank and Israel proper.
On August 25, the Israeli navy stopped another vessel intent on a major seaborne attack on the north of the country. The PLO office in Cyprus was closely involved in preparing that mission. On August 31, another vessel was seized and several Force 17 officers taken into captivity.
8,000 TERRORIST ACTS SINCE 1969
The paper says the PLO has perpetrated some 8,000 terrorist acts since 1969, most of them against Israeli targets. More than 650 Israelis have been killed, most of them civilians, among them many women and children.
From March until October 1, the paper says, there were 380 attacks or attempted attacks in Israel and the territories, and another 14 attacks or attempts against Israeli targets abroad. The toll from this recent spate is 14 dead and hundreds injured.