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Khaled invitation sparks row over Labour Day celebrations

Leila Khaled's presence in Zurich on Labour Day has aroused strong feelings Keystone

Zurich's Labour Day celebrations on May 1 are being overshadowed by a row over a decision to invite a controversial Palestinian resistance figure, Leila Khaled, to attend the occasion. Khaled has been condemned as a "terrorist" for her involvement with extremist groups such as Hamas.

Khaled’s invitation has divided Zurich’s trade unions, which are partly responsible for organising the Labour Day celebrations, and drawn strong criticism from Jewish groups.

The row intensified when it became known that Khaled had attended a Palestinian conference in the Iranian capital, Teheran, where several extremist groups, including Hamas and Hezbollah, called on Palestinians to carry out suicide bombings against Israeli targets.

The news prompted the president of Zurich’s Trades Union Federation, Klaus Rozsa, to urge the Committee to withdraw the invitation. He described Khaled as a “nationalist” and said he didn’t believe “nationalist ideas should be given a platform”.

Khaled’s presence at the event has also provoked strong reactions among Zurich’s Jewish community – the largest in Switzerland. Its president, Werner Rom stopped short of calling for the event to be cancelled, but he denounced the organisers as “ill-advised”.

Rom drew special attention to the fact that Khaled had been an active member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group, which hijacked and blew up a Swissair jet in September 1970.

“I think it is not our duty to judge who invites whom. But if somebody invites an activist like Leila Khaled, who has bitter traces left in Switzerland, as an ambassador for peace, I think they are quite ill-advised,” he told swissinfo.

A spokesman for the 1.May Committee, Walter Angst, said Khaled had been invited because the Committee wanted to “show solidarity with oppressed people”.

He added: “We wanted to discuss the situation in the occupied territories with a member of the Palestinian left.”

The committee is made up of 80 left-wing organisations, including trade unions and political parties. Khaled is due to give two speeches on May 1.

The seeds for Khaled’s terrorist past were sown back in 1948 when, at the age of four, her family was forced to leave their home in Haifa, now on the Israeli coast, and move to a refugee camp in Lebanon.

During her teens, Khaled joined the Arab Nationalist Movement, before moving on to its military offshoot, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Then on August 29, 1969, she stunned the world by successfully hijacking a TWA plane.

A year later, she attempted another hijacking, but it ended in failure when her accomplice was killed and the plane forced to land at London’s Heathrow airport. Khaled spent almost a month in jail before being released courtesy of another hijacking.

She later went on to serve as a politician for the PFLP as a member of the Palestinian National Council, and remains a fervent supporter of the armed struggle for a liberated Palestine.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR