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Popular Front Leader Has Left Paris, but Political Uproar There Lingers

February 4, 1992
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Arch-terrorist George Habash has quietly left Paris, but the political uproar that erupted over his visit here for medical treatment is not going away as easily.

So far, five senior French officials have been fired for allowing Habash into France, and more heads may roll.

With crucial regional elections seven weeks away, the right-wing parties are using the incident as a stick to beat the increasingly unpopular Socialist government.

The 65-year-old Marxist leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who lives in Tunis, may indeed have affected President Francois Mitterrand’s fortunes when he landed unannounced on the evening of Jan. 29 at Paris Le Bourget Airport, in what was described as a French ambulance plane.

He was admitted to the Henri Durant Hospital here, run by the French Red Cross. Rumors that he had suffered a stroke were later denied.

Palestine Liberation Organization sources in Tunis said Habash’s entry into France was “totally approved” at “the highest level” of the French government and that he would undergo emergency brain surgery.

But when it became public that French officials had knowingly allowed the head of a notorious terrorist organization to enter the country, the government began distancing itself from the decision.

Mitterrand, who learned of the political crisis during a state visit to Oman, promised that Habash’s time in France would be “extremely brief.”

On his way to the United Nations in New York on Friday, Mitterrand told reporters that “those who allowed Habash to come to Paris are mad and lacking political sensibility.”

He suggested that, while there were no warrants for Habash’s arrest outstanding in France, a Paris investigating magistrate should review evidence linking the Popular Front to terrorist acts in which French citizens died or were maimed.


Taking his cue from Mitterrand, Judge Jean-Louis Brugiers decided to place Habash under police surveillance at the hospital and sent doctors to find out if he was in condition to undergo interrogation. Heavily armed police were detailed to prevent the unwanted guest from leaving.

But after the judge ruled that the Popular Front leader was too ill to answer questions, he was allowed to leave the country Saturday aboard a plane dispatched by the Algerian government.

The Habash affair is the latest public relations disaster for the Socialist government, which has steadily lost ground with the French public after a series of financial scandals and assorted examples of ineptitude by ranking party officials.

The Popular Front’s long record of international terrorism, including fatalities on French soil, makes the controversy a political bonanza for the right-wing opposition, which denounced Habash’s presence in Paris as “an insult to the victims of terrorism.”

In doing so, the right wing conveniently overlooked the fact that it was in power when the PLO was allowed to open an office in Paris, at the height of its support for terrorist activity.

But criticism has not been limited to the right. The center-left Le Monde, usually supportive of the government’s often pro-Arab policies, criticized the authorities for admitting someone who symbolizes total rejection of the Middle East peace process. It described Habash as “a cumbersome patient.”

Jean Kahn, the head of CRIF, the representative council of French Jewish organizations, urged that Habash, “a symbol of terrorism, be put under arrest so that the trial of blind terrorism could be held in France.”

But except for the militant Zionist youth group Betar, which staged demonstrations near the Red Cross hospital, the French Jewish community did not press the issue.

Israel, similarly, muted its reaction. Foreign Minister David Levy, who was on his way home from the Moscow conference on Middle East regional issues, suggested late last week that French policy toward terrorism is “incoherent.”


But in Jerusalem a few hours later, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir told the mass-circulation French daily Le Figaro that he thought the whole issue was “a misunderstanding” of little importance.

The Socialist Party belatedly issued a statement saying it had “learned with amazement” about the decision to bring Habash to France. “Disciplinary action was taken immediately against those responsible for this wrong decision,” the statement said.

In fact, the incident has taken a high toll on French officialdom.

Georgina Dufoix, a former member of the French government said to be very close to Mitterrand, was forced to quit as adviser to the president after publicly claiming responsibility for the decision to admit Habash. Dufoix also was compelled Monday to resign as chairwoman of the French Red Cross.

Other political casualties included Francois Scheer, the No. 2 man at the Foreign Ministry, and another official described as the closest adviser to Interior Minister Philippe Marchand.

But the right-wing opposition is still demanding the resignations of Prime Minister Edith Cresson, Foreign Minister Roland Dumas and Interior Minister Marchand.


There remains a mystery as to why Habash came here at all. His medical condition apparently was not as serious as first reported by the media.

Habash’s wife, Hilda, told the French media that her husband did not suffer a stroke and that he was not slated for brain surgery.

The nature of his ailment and treatment was not disclosed. But it appears that the treatment he received at the Red Cross hospital could just as easily have been administered in Tunisia.

Habash’s Popular Front has a record of wanton bloodshed that is surpassed by few, if any, radical terrorist groups.

In the name of the Palestinian cause, the PFLP blew up three civilian aircraft in the Zarka desert in Jordan in September 1970, an act that triggered King Hussein’s massacre of Palestinians in his kingdom, which came to be known as “Black September.”

Israel claims the Popular Front was responsible for the 1972 Lod Airport massacre by three Japanese mercenaries who killed 26 people; for the 1978 attack on the El Al counter at Orly Airport in Paris, in which two people died; and the 1980 bomb explosion outside the Rue Copernic Synagogue in Paris that killed two people and injured 70.

The Popular Front also was responsible for the June 1976 hijacking of an Air France jet that led to the famous Israeli commando raid on the airport in Entebbe, Uganda.

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