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The following notes have been compiled (unless otherwise indicated) by Dr Glen Rangwala of Trinity College, Cambridge, and also appear on his own website. Any corrections and additions should be sent to
Arab Liberation Front 

(Jabhat al-Tahrir al-‘Arabiyya)

Established as a guerrilla group on 6/11 Apr 69 by Iraqi Ba‘thists, as alliance between Fatah, Egypt & Syria devd, & after Sa‘iqa formed; continued to be sponsored by Iraq. Pan-Arabist, initially aimed at reversing the 'Palestinianization' of the conflict; but joined PLO nevertheless (Jul 69). Led by Zayd Haydar (S-G in 1970), Munif al-Razzaz (a Jordanian; 60s/70s), ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Kayyali (at least 72-74), ‘Abd al-Rahim Ahmad (at least from 1975-91), Mahmud Isma’il (93). Current S-G is Rakad Salem (b.1944); Husayn Rahhal also prominent. Opposed to Oslo, but has maintained participation in PLO (eg in 1984 Amman PNC); & participates in NIF. Shares an office floor in Ramallah with the PLF. Also has offices in Lebanon & Iraq. Much of its work now is distributing grants from the Iraqi government to families of "martyrs" in Palestine.

Fatah-Revolutionary Council

Established by Sabri al-Banna with cooperation of Iraqi authorities (see above) & produced magazine Filastin al-Thawra. At first, maintained links with PLO intelligence apparatus from pre-BS Jordan, inc Samih Abu Kuwayk and Naji ‘Allush; even possibly covert links with Abu Iyad. But escalating tensions with PLO: ‘Allush was briefly detained in Aug74; F-RC associate, Md ‘Abd al-Ghafur, killed in Beirut on ‘Arafat's orders (12Sept74); F-RC attempted to assassinate Abu Mazin, but operatives were captured & Abu Nidal sentenced to death on PLO-CC decision. Most famous acts have been assassination attempt on Shlomo Argov (London, 1982); assassinations of Said Hamami & ‘Izz al-Din Qalaq (1978), Naim Khudr (1981), ‘Isam Sartawi (1983), Abu Iyad (1991). Moved closer to Libya from late70s, and seen to be acting on behalf of them: eg assassination of Yusuf al-Siba‘i, editor of al-Ahram (Cyprus, 1978), hijacking of Egyptian plane to Malta in 1985 (stormed at Valletta). In 1989, various leaders (inc Atif Abu Bakr, chief spokesman) moved to Sudan with 150 members, denouncing Libya. From 1992, Libya enforced inactivity. Unsuccessfully tried to gain control of Sidon refugee camp in early90s; & was involved in the assassination of the First Secretary of the Jordanian embassy in Lebanon in 1994, leading to vigorous attempts by the Lebanese army to destroy its remaining infrastructure; Jordan convicted (in absentia) Abu Nidal & four others to death for this on 3Dec01. Present leaders inc ‘Ali al-Farra ("Dr Kamal"), in charge of espionage. Now seen to be working on behalf of Egyptian intelligence, inc assassination of Shaykh Salah ‘Abd al-Mutalib (imam in Yemen, leader of Egyptian Jihad). Former members have now been allowed by Israel to live in WBG, suggesting past F-RC links with Israel (see esp MEI 596).


(Hamas literally means "zeal" but is an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawima al-Islamiyya, Islamic Resistance Movement):


Created as the armed wing of the non-nationalist, religious revivalist Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al-Muslimin) in Gaza, Aug 88. Muslim Brotherhood established 1946 & was a quiescent force in Palestine whose main goal was a reorientation of Palestinian society t/w religion. The Brotherhood played v little role in the opposition to the occupation. After 1967, the main front organisation was Ahmad Yassin's Mujama‘ (established 1973), a welfare charity (clinics, kindergartens, education), wh was encouraged by Israeli civilian administration in Gaza to apply for registered charity status in 1978 & was indirectly funded by Israel as a means of dividing Palestinian soc (admitted by Brig-Gen Yitzhak Sager, Israeli military governor for Gaza); also funds from from local zakat collections, Gulf Isl organisations (often via Jordan), expat Palestinians. Due to its identification of secular forces in Palestinian soc as the main opponent, there was considerable tension with PLO, wh came to a head in Jan80 wh Islamist activists attacked Red Crescent Soc offices & attempt to march on the home of its Director, Haydar ‘Abd al-Shafi. Main base was Islamic University of Gaza: IUG founded after Sadat closed Egyptian unis to Gazans due to Palestinian protest at Camp David; Sheikh Awwad's preexisting religious college, the only higher education institution in Gaza, transformed into a Uni, with secular nationalists pacified by giving them places on the consultation committee » claim to soc representativeness. However, with tensions over IUG's basic policy & Mujama‘'s prioritisation of controlling it, Mujama‘ encouraged Israeli authorities to dismiss their opponents in the committee (Feb 81) » subsequent Islamisation of IUG policy & staff (eg obligation on women to wear hijab & thobe, separate entrances for men & women) » use of violence & ostracisation against dissenters; tacit complicity from both uni & Israeli authorities wh Mujama‘ kept a weapons cache to use against secularists. By mid80s, was largest uni in OTs (4500 students), & student elections won overwhelmingly by Mujama‘. Outside the university, only limited success: support in early 80s from medical & engineering associations, but dropped away; some support from UNRWA teachers; little effort made among manual workers. Thru 80s, increasing use of violence against institutions (cinemas, places selling or serving alcohol, casinos) deemed unIslamic. Its increasingly overt political aspirations (esp in Khan Yunis under ‘Abd al-Aziz Rantisi) eventually led to conflict with Israel, esp in 1984 wh 13 members (inc Yassin) were arrested by Israel & arms cache seized, and leadership was passed to Rantisi and Dr Ibrahim Yazuri (a pharmacist). But also splits from the Brotherhood by those wh advocated Islamic liberation of Palestine (in West Bank, Hizb al-Tahrir during Jordanian annexation; in Gaza esp, Islamic Jihad in 80-90s). By 1985, Gazan membership of Mujama‘ was approx. 2000, largely employed in religious, community service & trading sectors; leadership was largely born around al-Nakba, grew up as refugees in Gaza, professionally educated in late 60s/early 70s (often in Egypt).
Debate within organisation at the start of the intifada; one strand saw continuing quiescence as a delegitimating force; whilst other strand thought that Israeli tacit support was necessary if the continuing infrastructural & welfare programme, underlying their cultural programme, was to continue. Compromise (after a substantial delay, to consult West Bank Ikhwan): formation of an independent body, Hamas, in Feb 1988 who would be the Brotherhood’s link to the intifada, without a formal link between the resistance & the Brotherhood in case the intifada was crushed in the nr future; personnel largely drawn from Mujama‘. According to Rantisi, the 7 founding leaders of Hamas were: Ahmad Yassin, ‘Abd al-Fattah Dukhan, Md Shama’, Ibrahim al-Yazuri, Issa al-Najjar, Salah Shehadeh (from Bayt Hanun) and ‘Abd al-Aziz Rantisi. Other leaders inc: Sheikh Khalil Qawqa, Isa al-Ashar, Mahmud Zahhar, Musa Abu Marzuq, Ibrahim Ghusha, Khalid Mish’al. Hamas worked with UNLU without joining it. Aug88 Charter declared that all Palestine is Islamic trust land, can never be surrendered to non-Muslims & is an integral part of Muslim world. Created as 3 separate wings: (i) the pol wing, staffed by Yassin's closest allies (Shanab, Yazuri, Rantisi, Zahhar) wh produced leaflets, fund raised esp in Gulf, recruited members & coopted mosques. (ii) the intelligence apparatus, known as al-Majd (glory), under Yihyah Sanwar & Ruhi Mushtaha, for internal policing, esp of Gaza (eg killing collaborators); later merged with (iii) military wing, ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam brigades, wh started as the smallest wing; operated through a cell system, bringing great difficulties for Israel in penetrating, as well as highly autonomous functioning. Israel barely interfered with its activities initially, continuing to see it as a social reformist organisation & thus promoting it as a viable partner in discussions in order to marginalise the PLO » frequent meetings between Hamas figures (inc Yassin) & Israeli government officials (eg Zahhar-Rabin meeting). This tacit cooperation ended with the Sasportas / Sa'don killings (poss. Hamas' bid for popular support wh seemed to be in decline, & as IJ came out against such actions); banned by Dec89. Military actions, declared not to be incompatible with religion, seen as part of the Brotherhood’s increasing reconciliation with nationalism; brought in support from refugees, white collar workers & professionals. Agreed to abide by decisions of the PNC in 1989, but called for elections to it (1991). By 1990-1, were cooperating with PFLP in opposition to Fatah policies. Opposition to ‘Arafat's role in Gulf War, instead calling for both Iraqi & US withdrawal » Gulf States shifted their funding from PLO to Hamas (it claimed receipt of $28m per month from Saudi) » took PLO's welfare role away from it, generating considerable public support due to their greater efficiency. Armed confrontations with Fatah, eg June91 in Nablus, July92 in Gaza » some conciliatory meetings, calling for unity, esp with Dec92 expulsions, wh weakened both Hamas' infrastructure and Fatah's primacy: Jan93 Khartum meeting represented increased coordination, pledges of mutual nonviolence, & PLO pledging delay in returning to talks until demands met for return of the deported activists. Also, with al-Aqsa massacre in Oct90, Hamas turned its primary opposition to Israel; it declared every Israeli soldier & settler a legitimate target.

After Oslo, Hamas ridiculed process & joined the wider rejectionist alliance wh managed to gain some support (won student elections at Birzeit in Nov 93), tho nationally, reduced to a clear minority (c.17%), esp since the PA cd use foreign donor funds to replace Hamas welfare services. 1994: after protest against the PA, Palestine Mosque shootings in Gaza by PA police » ‘Arafat coopted leadership in Gaza, wh subsequently opted for non-military measures; split in Hamas leadership through OTs, with West Bank leadership subsequently taking all the military action. Also, Abu Marzuq, Hamas pol leadership in Jordan, gives de facto acceptance of Israel within 1948 borders, by declaring that a ceasefire would be in place between an Israel that withdrew from OTs & Hamas == recognition of the legitimacy of the Green Line; also reiterated by Sheikh Yassin in Spring 94 letter in whc he offered a ceasefire (hudna) if Israeli forces withdraw from OTs, settlements dismantled, prisoners released; & by Rantisi (in interview supra). 1996: after Ayyash suicide bombings, Dahlan (PSF) ensured the thorough dismantling of Hamas infrastructure in Gaza, inc charities & welfare agencies; also increasing force used in West Bank, shown with killing of the ‘Awadallah brohers (1998) & weakness of ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam.  

Confrontation with PA most explicit wh Hamas leadership (Rantisi in OTs, Yassin, Abu Marzuq for diaspora) was in jail » all subsequently released to ensure Hamas refrains from military action; new consensus around their positions: non-conflict with PA, thus cannot attack Oslo directly & reprisals against PA repression shd be taken against Israel. Role is purported deterrence: no attacks on Israel unless Hamas leadership is targetted by Israel. Hamas presents itself as an alternative to the PA internationally, through diplomacy; eg in Yassin’s worldwide tour, appealing to opinion opposed to a PA-Israel-US alliance. Despite role in establishing Damascus 10 grouping, participates in NIF.

Robinson (Building, pp.191-5) isolates 4 fissures within Hamas: i) between pol & military wings: had become semi-independent before Oslo to protect the pol decision-makers. ‘Arafat used this fissure in mid95, holding dialogue with pol wing & seeking its participation in the pol process (» debate within Hamas in Aug95 about participating in PLC elections), whilst vigorously combatting ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam brigades. Resulting low-key Hamas participation in elections, whilst military wing were exploding buses in Israel 2 months later (to criticism of Islamist politicians). ii) diaspora leadership much more strongly opposed to Oslo process than OTs, backing military wing esp wh PA-Israel deals were thought to be forthcoming. iii) splits in pol wing on participation in elections: Imad Faluji, ed of al-Watan, argued that boycotting wd lead to Hamas’ marginalisation & unrivalled Fatah dominance; opposed by those wh saw participation as implicitly accepting Oslo process » never settled, with Hamas candidates running in election without formal party approval. iv) splits within military wing, with the newly created ‘Cells of the Martyr the Engineer Yahya Ayyash — the New Pupils’ more hardline than Izz al-Din al-Qassam brigades.

See also Milton-Edwards, 1996; Kristianasen, 1999.

Islamic Jihad 

(Al-Jihad al-Islami): 

Thought to have emerged as a nationalist splinter from Muslim Brotherhood in 1986, based at IUG, arguing that the struggle against occupation had to precede spreading religious values in soc. IJ saw Israel (not the leftists) as the main opponent, & supported Iranian revn, wh Mujama cd not later support due to their funding links with Saudi. Led by Sheikh ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ‘Awda until his deportation (1988); then by Fathi Shiqaqi until his murder in Malta (October 1995). Is generally thought to be a number of different activist & revolutionary groups, mostly with good links to Fatah, wh may have encouraged IJ to draw support from the Ikhwan. All groups prioritise the ending of Israeli occupation, seen as a prerequisite for Isl ascendancy, & appropriating nationalist sentiment, cf Mujama; high prizing on the sacrifice of life, with first attempts on suicide car bombs, esp the Aug87 planning in Bethlehem for a young woman, Atif Aliyan, to car bomb the Israeli Ministry of Justice (Israel prevented). The largest group is (i) the Gazan group, built up support esp in Israeli prisons & instrumental in setting the climate for the intifada through military acivities against Israeli targets from Oct86 (murder of 2 Israeli taxi drivers; spectacular escape of IJ detainees from Israeli jail in May87; widespread grenade attacks on Israeli army patrols; Israeli reprisals in Oct87 in Shujai’a area of Gaza city killed 3 Palestinian residents & 4 IJ members, wh were declared martyrs » symbolism important in building intifada). Also (ii) the IJ Jerusalem Brigade, led by Sheikh As’ad Bayyud Tamimi, wh had been active in Hebron Ikhwan & Liberation Party in 50s/60s, but deported to Jordan in 1970, from wh IJ attacks launched on Israel in late80s. Poss. responsible for the stabbing of Aharon Gross, a Yeshiva student, in Hebron Jul83, tho murderers never identified; claimed responsibility for the grenade attack on the military passing-out ceremony at the W.Wall, killing 1 soldier’s father (Oct86): Israel claimed Fatah coordination. (iii) IJ Battalion, established 1985 by Bassam Sultan, in close cooperation with Fatah (poss. a Fatah attempt to take support from Shqaqi-‘Awda faction); and (iv) IJ Palestine, led by Jamal Amar & based in Sudan. More recent attacks on Israel have been on soldiers & settlers, esp Nov94 attack on Netzarim junction (3 soldiers killed); Jan95 bomb at Netanya wh killed 18 soldiers & 1 civilian; Apr95 van bomb on Israeli bus, killing 8 soldiers; and Oct00 bomb attack on W.Jerusalem wh killed 2 civilians. Unlike Hamas, takes part in PLO-CC, with Mahmud Asad al-Tamimi and Ibrahim Kamil al-Itr taking seats. Damascus-based leadership consists of Ramadan Shallah (S-G), Ziyad Nahala (deputy S-G, responsible for Lebanon), Ibrahim Shihada, Ahmad Muhana. Has participated in PA cabinet meetings since Oct 00; & full role in NIF.

See also Milton-Edwards, 1996.


Formed 1982/83, claiming ‘Arafat’s corruption had prevented effective Palestinian response to Israeli invasion of Lebanon; led largely by Fatah colonel Sa’id Musa Muragha. Joined PNSF in 1985, & despite brief rapproachment with Fatah, opposed Oslo > joined the “Damascus 10”. Does not participate in the NIF. Effective leader now is Abu Khalid al-‘Umla, & still has a substantial following in the Lebanese refugee camps.

Palestine Liberation Front 

(Jabhat al-Tahrir al-Filastiniyya)

Formed by Md Abu ‘Abbas Zaydan (Abu-l-‘Abbas) & Tal‘at Ya‘qub in Apr77, after split from PFLP-GC due to its support for Syria’s attacks on PLO in Lebanon in 1976 > open clashes between wings in Lebanon led to its separate existence, in an ‘Arafat-brokered compromise. Started as pro-Iraqi, & a member of the rejectionist front. Continued clashes with PF-GC, esp after explosion at PLF main offices in Beirut on 13/8/77 wh killed 200, blamed on PF-GC. Kidnapped 51 UNIFIL soldiers in S.Lebanon in 1978, but later released them. Split into 3 different factions from early80s, with centrist pro-Damascus faction under Tal‘at Ya‘qub challenging pro-Iraqi faction under Abu-l-‘Abbas & ‘Ali Ishaq, wh in turn effected a rapprochement with mainstream PLO in 1983 (& took part in the Amman PNC of Nov84). Minor faction under ‘Abd al-Fattah Ghanim was militantly pro-Syria; & reconciled with Ya‘qub’s faction wh latter left Democratic Alliance to join Ghanim in creating PNSF in Mar85; but this grouping declined with death of Ya‘qub from a heart attack in Nov88. Abu-l-‘Abbas drew intense international criticism to PLO due to PLF’s hijacking of the Achille Lauro (Oct85), & its attempted seaborne raid nr Tel Aviv in May90. To defuse criticism, Abu-l-‘Abbas replaced by ‘Ali Ishaq on PLO-EC in 1991; but opposition to Madrid & Oslo processes > Ishaq boycotts PLO-EC seat, member of the “Damascus 10”, but participates in NIF. Other leaders inc Wasil Abu Yusuf, Omar Shibli, Abu Nidal al-Ashqar (who is the recognised leader).

Active Organisation for the Liberation of Palestine (AOLP)

Originally established by Dr ‘Isam Sartawi (a non-practicing physician) in 1967 as a non-combatant organisation to provide medical services to fida’iyyun; merged with Fatah in Feb68; independently reestablished by Sartawi after he argued with ‘Arafat in a PLO meeting in 11/68; began with just 17 of Sartawi’s supporters in Fatah. Was helped by Iraqi troops in Jordan, wh offered to protect his training camp (Sartawi had lived in Baghdad & had good relations with government); claimed to operate through snipers on the Jordanian border. Supported Nasir ideologically & was the only group to support Nasir’s acceptance of the Rogers Plan, but had no connection with Nasirist leaders 1968-70 (Gresh, 35). Rejoined Fatah at July 1971 PNC, after effectively disbanding during Black September. Sartawi was assassinated in Portugal on 12 Apr 83.

See: Gresh (1988) - major source of his info is Sartawi; MER 1969 - 1970.

Palestinian Popular Struggle Front 

(Jabhat al-nidal al-sha'biyya al-filastiniyya)

An oppositional group within the PLO. Started as PPS Organisation from within the West Bank by former ANM recruits, esp Subhi Ghusha; altho created before 1967 war, its 1st statement was in Jul67. When Ghusha was held by Israel for 8 months, led by Bahjat Abu Gharbiyya (former Ba‘thist leader), Samir Ghawsha & Fayiz Hamdan (former PLA major) wh was represented on the 1st PLO-EC. Worked closely in support of Fatah in West Bank after 1967, and became affiliated to Fatah from 1971, but soon broke (1973). Close to Egyptian intelligence, & operating largely through airline & airport attacks (eg attack on El Al offices in Athens, 27Nov69; hijacking of Olympic Airlines flight from Beirut to Athens, 22Jul70). After decline, was revived by Syria & Libya under Samir Ghawsha in 1982 (wh remains on the PLO-EC). Founder member of 1974 rejectionist group; & member of National Alliance & PNSF; but left in 1988 & re-joined PLO-EC in Sept91 after accepting the PLO's endorsement of SCR242 joined PLO-EC in Sept91. However, went on to help found the Damascus 10. PPSF activists were originally suspected of involvement in the Lockerbie bombing of 1988; uncertainties remain about their role, if any, but continues to receive funds from Libya. Participates in NIF. Seems to have split into pro- & anti- PA factions, with opposing group based in Damascus & led by Khalid ‘Abd al-Majid (wh also coordinates links with Damascus 10); and pro- group still tied to Ghawsha & Abu Gharbiyya. Other leaders inc Ahmad Majdalani (now working for PA in International & Arab Affairs) & Nabil Md al-Qiblani.

Palestinian Revolutionary Communist Party 

(al-Hizb al-Shuyu‘i al-Thawri al-Filastini)

Palestinian communists in Lebanon in favour of armed struggle, also portraying itself as the dissident wing of the PCP; led by ‘Arabi ‘Awwad. Has been pro-Syria, eg supporting the National Alliance & PNSF; joined Damascus 10. Despite participation of most pro-Syrian groups in NIF from 2000, PRCP boycotts.

Palestinian Democratic Union 

(Al-Ittihad al-Dimuqrati al-Filastini, Fida)

Reformist movement within PLO, arising from 1990-1 split within DFLP, with Yasir ‘Abd Rabbu forming break-away faction, Fida, to remove involvement from Jordanian politics; & later to critically support Madrid & Oslo processes. Continued to claim to be the DFLP until 1993, wh took up new name. Largely consists of West Bank residents. Gained a seat on PLO-EC, & won a seat (Ramallah district) in ‘96 PLC elections. Participates in NIF. Other leaders inc Salih Ra’fat (wh is the party’s S-G), Salih Salih, Ali ‘Amr, Mahmud Nawfal, ‘Isam ‘Abd al-Latif, Zahira Kamal, Azmi Shu‘aybi.


Last revised on 18 June, 2009