Abu Abbas:
from terrorist to peace advocate


May 10, 1996
Web posted at: 10:50 p.m. EDT (0230 GMT)

From Correspondent Rob Reynolds

GAZA STRIP (CNN) -- For years, Abu Abbas was feared as an international terrorist in Israel and Europe, and idolized as a freedom fighter in the Arab world. In the United States, he's known as the mastermind of the Achille Lauro hijacking, which received international attention and cost an American his life.

But times have changed, and now, he offers advice on reaching a lasting peace in the Middle East.

Abbas as peacemaker

He spends his days rushing from meeting to meeting, lunching with officials of the new Palestinian National Authority, networking, listening and making suggestions.

He says it surprises him that he's even in Gaza. Israel allowed him in to cast his vote at a meeting of the Palestinian National Council last month and has turned a blind eye to his presence since then.

Abbas quote

"If they want to make peace, they must allow me to come here," Abbas said. "If they don't allow me to come here, that means they don't want us to share peace ... that means they speak to us: go and fight." (196K AIFF sound or 196K WAV sound)

He now says the time for armed struggle has ended, but not the struggle itself. "The purpose of armed struggle is not simply to kill ... its purpose is to reach a political goal," Abbas said.

Abbas as terrorist


In 1985, Palestinian militants under his command hijacked the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro. Before the siege ended, an elderly wheelchair-bound American Jew, Leon Klinghoffer, had been murdered and dumped in the sea.

Abbas says it was all a mistake, a military mission that went wrong. "There was no plan to hijack the ship or hurt the people aboard."

"The media didn't tell the world that Abu Abbas saved the lives of six hundred passengers, only that a disabled man was killed," he said.

In 1990, he struck again from the sea, with an abortive speedboat attack on bathers on a beach near Tel Aviv.

He's been sentenced in absentia to five life terms in Italy, and he's wanted in the United States. But Abbas remains a free man.

"It is true that a large percentage of the Western world hopes that I am imprisoned or dead," he said. "But all my people, the Palestinians and the Arabs, wish me long life and freedom."

His bloody reputation is not deterring top Palestinian officers from welcoming his advice. And he says, for now at least, the days when he used the sea as a weapon are over.

"Many things still have not changed. What changed is the means, but we have still not reached our goals."

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