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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 November 2018

Palestinians dismiss Israeli claims Abbas was KGB agent

Israeli TV report cites researchers who were studying papers from a former KGB archivist who defected to Britain in 1992.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas studied for his doctorate in Moscow. Abbas Momani / AFP / September 8, 2016
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas studied for his doctorate in Moscow. Abbas Momani / AFP / September 8, 2016

RAMALLAH // A spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Thursday dismissed a claim by Israeli researchers that he worked as a Soviet agent in Damascus in the 1980s.

The claim emerged in a report by Israeli public television on Wednesday night citing two researchers who were studying the so-called Mitrokhin papers stored in Britain at Cambridge University’s Churchill Archives Centre.

“In 1983, he (Abbas) is listed as being groomed by the KGB under the code name Krotov, the mole,” one of the Israeli researchers, Isabella Ginor, told the programme.

But Mr Abbas’ spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said the allegation “falls under the framework of Israeli absurdities which we have got used to.”

Mr Abbas was born in what was then British mandate Palestine, but his family fled to Syria during the 1948 war triggered by the creation of the state of Israel. Later, Mr Abbas studied for his doctorate in Moscow.

The report did not specify what Mr Abbas allegedly did for the Soviets, or for how long. But Mr Abu Rudeineh branded the allegation a “smear campaign” aimed at derailing a Russian peace initiative. Both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders have tentatively agreed to attend a peace summit hosted by Moscow, though no date has been specified.

“It is clear Israel is troubled by the (Palestinians’) strategic relationship with Russia and by the clear and announced Russian position, which is to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the basis on an independent Palestinian state and the right of self-determination for our people,” said Mr Abu Rudeineh.

Gideon Remez, a researcher at the Truman Institute, which is part of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’, said an Abbas-KGB connection emerged from documents smuggled out of Russia by former KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin.

Major Mitrokhin was a senior archivist in the KGB’s foreign intelligence archive from 1972 until his retirement in 1984. Disillusioned by Soviet oppression, at home, he secretly copied information by hand, before defecting to Britain with it in 1992.

Some of the material was released two years ago for public research, and the Truman Institute requested a file marked “the Middle East”, according to Mr Remez.

“There’s a group of summaries or excerpts there that all come under a headline of persons cultivated by the KGB in the year 1983,” he said. “Now one of these items is all of two lines ... it starts with the code name of the person, ‘Krotov’, which is derived from the Russian word for ‘mole’, and then ‘Abbas, Mahmoud, born 1935 in Palestine, member of the central committee of Fatah and the PLO, in Damascus ‘agent of the KGB’.”

The allegations coincide with Russian president Vladimir Putin’s efforts to bring about a face-to-face meeting between Mr Abbas and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The offer to host the talks was made last month and Mr Abbas this week claimed that a meeting with Mr Netanyahu had been set for Friday but it was called off after an aide to the Israeli premier proposed a postponement.

Mr Putin’s Middle East envoy Mikhail Bogdanov met with both Mr Netanyahu and Palestinian officials this week. The television report, which was shown on Channel One, recalled that the Russian envoy, Mr Bogdanov, was stationed in Damascus in 1983. His official CV online shows that he was in Syria between 1983 and 1989.

Mr Abbas is a founding member of Fatah, the dominant faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the main Palestinian nationalist movement. He became Palestinian president in 2005.

A Palestinian official, who declined to be identified, said that Abbas had served as an official liaison with the Soviet regime, “so he hardly needed to be a spy.” Any suggestion that he had been a secret agent was “absolutely absurd”.

Mr Netanyahu’s position is that he is ready to meet Mr Abbas anytime, but without preconditions. However, Palestinian leaders have previously called for the release of prisoners, a deadline for the end of the occupation of the West Bank and a halt to Israeli settlement building as conditions for talks.

* Reuters