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As-Sa'iqa (also transliterated as al-Saika, Saeqa, etc, from Arabic: الصاعقة meaning storm or thunderbolt; also known as the Vanguard for the Popular Liberation War) is a Palestinian Baathist political and military faction created and controlled by Syria. It is the Palestinian branch of the Syrian Ba'th Party, and is a member organisation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), although it is presently not active in the organization.[1] Present Secretary-General is Farhan Abu Al-Hayja.


History of the Organization

As-Sa'iqa was formed as an organization by the Syrian Ba'th Party in September 1966, but first activated in December 1968, when Syria tried to build up an alternative to Yassir Arafat, then emerging with his Fatah faction as the primary Palestinian fedayeen leader and politician[2]. As-Sa'iqa was initially the second-largest group within the PLO, after Fatah.[1]


Al-Assad Takeover and Purge of as-Sa'iqa

As-Sa'iqa was also used in the Ba'thist power struggle then in play in Syria, by President Salah Jadid to counter the ambitions of Defence Minister Hafez al-Assad. When al-Assad seized power in the November 1970 "Corrective Revolution", the organization was purged and its leadership replaced with al-Assad loyalists (although Jadid loyalists held on to the as-Sai'qa branch active in the Palestinian camps in Jordan until mid-1971, when they were arrested).[3] As new Secretary-General (after Mahmud al-Ma'ayta, who had recently succeeded Yusuf Zu'ayyin), al-Assad chose Zuhayr Muhsin, a Palestinian Ba'thist who had come to Syria as a refugee from Jordan. He was repeatedly promoted by Syria as a candidate for the post as Chairman of the PLO, to replace Arafat, but never gained support from other factions.

With and Against the PLO in Lebanon

The organization was, and is, utilized by Syria as a proxy force in the Palestinian movement. While this has prevented as-Sa'iqa from gaining widespread popularity among Palestinians, it became an important force in the Palestinian camps in Syria, as well as in Lebanon. During the Lebanese Civil War, Syria built the movement into one of the most important Palestinian fighting units, but also forced it to join in Syrian offensives against the PLO when relations between al-Assad and Arafat soured. This led to as-Sa'iqa's expulsion from the PLO in 1976, but it was readmitted in December the same year, after the situation had cooled down, and after Syria named this as a condition for further support for the PLO. The attacks on the PLO led to large-scale defections of Syrian-based Palestinians from the movement. As Saiqa was as well responsible of the Damour Massacre in 1976 and many other barbaric mass murders.[4].

After Muhsin's assassination in 1979, 'Isam al-Qadi became new Secretary-General. The movement remained active during the Lebanese Civil War, and again joined Syria, the Lebanese Shi'a Amal Movement and Abu Musa's Fatah al-Intifada in attacks on the PLO during the War of the Camps in 1984-85, and for the remainder of the Civil War (which lasted until 1990). This again led to mass-defections of Palestinians from the movement (Harris quotes the Syrian-aligned Amal Movement as complaining that the Syrian-backed Palestinian forces sent to attack the PLO were "Abu Musa in the Biqa'" but "become Abu nothing in the Shuf and Abu Ammar on arrival in Beirut"), and reportedly its ranks were filled with non-Palestinian Syrian army recruits. After the end of the Civil War, the movement was nearly out of contact with the PLO mainstream[5], and exerted influence only in Syria and in Syrian-occupied parts of Lebanon. It kept lobbying within the PLO against the various peace proposals advanced by Arafat, and was part of the Syrian-based National Alliance that opposed Arafat.

As-Sai'qa today

After the end of the Lebanese Civil War and the 1993 signing of the Oslo Peace Agreement, as-Sai'qa has largely lost its usefulness to the Syrian government, and the state and size of the organization has deteriorated. Today, it is wholly insignificant outside Syria, although it retains a presence in Lebanon (its future is uncertain after the end in 2005 of the Syrian Army's presence in Lebanon). It is extremely weak in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and has not been active during the al-Aqsa Intifada. Its importance to Syria has lessened, both because the PLO has diminished in importance compared to the Palestinian National Authority (which as-Sai'qa boycotts), and because Damascus has changed its strategy to supporting the Palestinian Islamist factions Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Organization and Structure

As-Sa'iqa is led by a Secretary-General, presently Farhan Abu Al-Hayja (since 2007). It has a representative (Muhammad al-Khalifa) on the PLO Executive Committee, but he boycotts sessions of the PLO EC[6][7]. During much of the 1970s, as-Sai'qa's representatives in the PLO EC (Muhsin and al-Qadi) held the prestigious and sensitive post as Head of the Military Department, which reflects the military importance of the movement in these years.

Syrian backing in the 1970s gave as-Sa'iqa a military weight far greater than its political influence, which has always been small. During the Lebanese civil war was often the second largest Palestinian faction in fighting strength, after Yassir Arafat's Fatah movement[8].

Under the name Eagles of the Palestinian Revolution - possibly the name of the armed wing of as-Sa'iqa - the organization has committed a number of international terrorist attacks. Among these are the 1979 takeover of the Egyptian embassy in Ankara, Turkey[9] (although attributed to Fatah) and a kidnapping of Jews emigrating by train through Austria from the Soviet Union to Israel [10]. Since the early 1990s, the organization has not committed any known attacks, and it is not listed on the US State Department's List of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

Ideological profile

As-Sa'iqa's political agenda is identical to that of Ba'thist Syria, i.e. Arab socialist, nationalist and strongly committed to Pan-Arab doctrine. While this reflects its Ba'thist programme, it has also used Pan-Arabism as a means of supporting the primacy of its sponsor, Syria, over the Arafat-led PLO's claim to exclusive representation of the Palestinian people. Thus, it rejected "Palestinization" of the conflict with Israel, insisting on the necessary involvement of the greater Arab nation. This occasionally went to extremes, with as-Sa'iqa leaders denying the existence of a separate Palestinian people within the wider Arab nation (quote).

The group has generally taken a hard line stance (reflecting that of Syria) on issues such as the recognition of Israel, the Oslo Accords, and other questions of Palestinian goals and political orientation. It was a member of the 1974 Rejectionist Front, despite supporting the Ten Point Programme that initially caused the PLO/Rejectionist Front split.

See also


  1. ^ Morris, Benny. Righteous Victims. p. 367


  • Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War Fisk, Robert (2001) (ISBN 0-19-280130-9)
  • Faces of Lebanon: Sects, Wars, and Global Extensions (Princeton Series on the Middle East)Harris William W (1997) (ISBN 1-55876-115-2)


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