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The PLO envoy to Washington accused a top congressman of insulting the Palestinian people. Afif Safieh earlier this week had issued a statement noting the death of George Habash, the founder and one-time leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Safieh called Habash a “great leader” and opened a condolences registry at the Washington office of the Palestine Liberation Organization. U.S. Rep Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the Jewish chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, in a statement called Safieh’s statement “asinine,” “disgusting,” and “crude and insensitive.” Lantos noted that Habash had pioneered airplane hijackings and had split with the PLO leadership in part over its recognition of Israel. On Wednesday Safieh countered with a statement.

“The PLO Mission rejects this unfortunate and insensitive characterization by Mr. Lantos, which is deemed as a direct insult to the Palestinian people as a whole,” he said. Habash was “undeniably the second most important figure” in the history of the Palestinian national movement, Safieh said. “Honoring the memory of a national leader of the historical magnitude of Dr. George Habash does not constitute an endorsement of every ideological position or method used by Dr. Habash over the past 60 years of political struggle on behalf of the Palestine cause.” The Palestinian Authority does not have an embassy in Washington, but the PLO is permitted to maintain an office.

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