AMMAN (AFP) — George Habash, founder of the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) which he led for three decades, died on Saturday in a hospital of the Jordanian capital at the age of 82.
The Palestinian ambassador to Jordan, Atallah Khairy, said Habash was hospitalised in Amman 10 days ago with heart problems and died shortly after 8 pm (1800 GMT).
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas paid tribute to Habash and ordered flags to be flown at half-mast for three days in the Palestinian territories.
"The death of this historic leader is a great loss for the Palestinian cause and for the Palestinian people for whom he fought for 60 years," during which he lived in exile, Abbas said.
His family said Habash would be buried in Amman on Monday or Tuesday.
Habash stepped down as head of the Damascus-based PFLP in July 2000 after having led the leftist faction which is a key component of the Palestine Liberation Organisation for more than 30 years.
He had been living in Jordan, the homeland of his wife, after an illness forced his retirement from political life.
The PFLP under Habash had hijacked airliners to Jordan and he called for the overthrow of its monarchy in 1970 before the Black September clashes in which the Jordanian army expelled the PLO from the kingdom.
Habash argued that the hijackings were legitimate action against Israel as a means of shining the spotlight on the neglected Palestinian cause. The PFLP also attacked Israeli embassies and oil pipelines.
A charismatic but controversial figure, Habash was a fierce opponent of the policy of compromise of PLO chief Arafat, ruling out a normalisation of ties with the Jewish state and accusing him of making too many concessions.
He opposed Arafat's 1993 Oslo autonomy deal and refused to return to the Palestinian territories after the launch of autonomy in 1994, while insisting on the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their former homes in Israel.
Habash's own life was turned upside-down one day in July 1948, when he found himself caught up in a tide of thousands pouring down a dusty road as they fled the Israeli advance on his hometown.
He graduated from the American University of Beirut in 1951 as a paediatrician, and the next year he founded the Arab Nationalist Movement (ANM), which aimed at unifying the whole Arab world to confront Israel.
At the same time he worked in a "people's dispensary" in Amman until 1957 when he was forced to go underground as a result of his political activity, and moved to Damascus where he stayed from 1958 to 1963, before moving to Beirut.
He founded the PFLP, preaching "popular armed resistance," in December 1967, six months after the Six-Day War which saw Israel seize east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Habash's radicalism, and his denunciation of Arab regimes, put a price on his head, and not only in Israel. He was wanted in Jordan and at one time even imprisoned in Syria, although he managed to escape.
The PFLP formed the hard core of a "Rejection Front" based in Damascus.
Married, and the father of two daughters, Habash moved to the Syrian capital in 1982, when the Israeli invasion of Lebanon drove all Palestinian factions from Beirut where he had established his headquarters.
Habash was born in 1925 in the Palestinian town of Lydda, now in Israel and known as Lod, the son of a Greek Orthodox merchant family.
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