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Giving Peace A Chance : 'Preparing Our Guns, Not Our Bags' : These words, though spoken figuratively by one Palestinian leader, serve as a haunting reminder that there is a deep hate for Arafat, the PLO, and, thus, the pact with Israel


DAMASCUS, Syria — On the eve of the historic accord that set the stage for a new era of peace between Israel and Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization, nearly a dozen other Palestinian leaders were closeted in unmarked offices scattered around the Syrian capital, quietly drawing up a battle plan for war.

In his basement headquarters in downtown Damascus, Ahmed Jibril, a radical Palestinian guerrilla leader with armed fighters throughout the Israeli occupied territories, was meeting with key representatives from Iran, searching for ways to subvert Arafat and a peace plan many Palestinians call a sellout.

"If the Israelis and the Americans are going to impose a solution on us, they will have to face Iran, and they know what that means," Jibril said in an interview. "There is a common interest between us and Iran in confronting the United States, Israel and their supporters at this time."

The end result: "Arafat will be killed, and the accord will fade away."

A few blocks away, in the basement offices of the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Deputy General Secretary Abu Ali Mustafa, once a close personal friend of Arafat's and a member of the PLO Executive Committee, mapped out a broad strategy that the group hopes will at least bring about Arafat's political demise.

"Our direct task now is how to bring about a new birth of the PLO outside of Arafat," Abu Ali said.

In the coming weeks, he added, the 10 Damascus-based Palestinian groups ranged against Arafat's plan for self-rule in their former lands will attempt to form the nucleus of a broad-based Palestinian congress that gradually will cut Arafat out of the PLO.

And, even as Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was signing the historic accord of mutual recognition with Arafat last Friday, an extremist, breakaway wing of the PLO leader's own Fatah faction called his deal with Israel "the greatest treason against the Palestinian people and the Islamic and Arab nation."

"This movement announces it is sanctioning the shedding of the blood of this traitor . . . ," it added.

Such is the vision within the world of the Palestinian rejectionists--an odd coalition of Marxists, social democrats, Islamic fundamentalists and pan-Arabists long united by a common enemy in Israel and now regrouping against an even greater new foe from within.

The 10 Syria-based Palestinian groups, whose names read like an alphabet soup of revolutionary liberation movements, represent radical elements that Arafat and Rabin both hope to marginalize through their mutual recognition and shared vision of peace.

Certainly, these Damascus-based groups will be out-financed.

And with the potential for billions of dollars in donations from the oil-rich Persian Gulf states, the United States and Western Europe for Arafat's soon-to-be-autonomous Jericho and Gaza Strip, the rejectionist leaders concede that their effort to draw support away from the PLO leader is an uphill battle.

But these Palestinian groups that established their headquarters here in Syria after fleeing the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 represent a potent force on the ground in the occupied territories. Abu Ali's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Jibril's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, and the Islamic Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups claim responsibility for most of the Israelis killed this year in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the self-proclaimed Israeli "security zone" in southern Lebanon.

And it is these well-armed and deeply committed radical Palestinian factions that most analysts say are likely to continue using the most violent tactics to derail the peace train Rabin and Arafat set in motion last week--at the very least through ongoing attacks on Israelis in the territories.

Iran already finances and helps arm Palestinian radicals in southern Lebanon through the extremist group Hezbollah, or Party of God, which has opposed the peace process from the start.

Tehran also has direct channels to the Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the territories, according to Jibril. And increased support from Iran for the rejectionists clearly would make Arafat's task of subduing dissent in his new autonomous zones far more difficult.

Hamas leaders and sympathizers in the Gaza Strip assert that the opposition groups have the support of more than half of the Palestinian refugees living in the camps there.

One fundamentalist leader, Hassan Deib, who is acting president of the Islamic Society of Gaza, told The Times in an interview in Gaza City a few days ago that opposition groups, led by Hamas and the PFLP, are better armed and better organized than Arafat's Fatah faction.

He predicted that the rejectionists will fight any future Palestinian police force that attempts to disarm them.

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