Middle East

Abu Jihad killing: Israeli censor releases commando's account

Abu Jihad, left, with Yasser Arafat in Algiers, 1987
Image caption Abu Jihad, left, helped to found the PLO with Yasser Arafat, right

Israel's military censor has cleared for publication an interview with a commando who killed the deputy of the then Palestinian chief Yasser Arafat.

It has been widely believed that Abu Jihad was killed by Israeli agents in Tunis in 1988 but Israel has never officially acknowledged it.

However, the censor has allowed Yediot Ahronot newspaper to publish the interview with Nahum Lev.

Mr Lev died in 2000 and his account has not been made public until now.

Abu Jihad - whose real name was Khalil al-Wazir - founded the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) with Yasser Arafat and was blamed for a string of deadly attacks on Israelis.

He was shot dead on 16 April 1988 in a raid on the PLO headquarters in the Tunisian capital.

The BBC's Kevin Connolly in Jerusalem says that no-one in the Middle East has ever doubted that Israel was behind the assassination.

He says Yediot Ahronot has been negotiating with Israeli's military censors for months for permission to tell the story.

The censors have now given way rather than fight the newspaper in the supreme court, he adds.

"Israel killed the number two man in the PLO, Abu Jihad, in Tunis in 1988, it can now be reported," the newspaper said.

"The intelligence part of the assassination was overseen by the Mossad [Israeli intelligence], and the operational side was carried out by Sayeret Matkal [elite commando unit]."

'Horrific attacks'

In his account of the operation, Nahum Lev said: "I had read every page of the file on him. Abu Jihad was connected to horrific acts against civilians. He was marked for death. I shot him with no hesitation."

Image caption Israeli commandos attacked the villa in Tunis after landing from the sea

He said the Israeli squad arrived by sea and then he and another commando - disguised as a woman - approached the house as if they were a couple enjoying an evening stroll.

Mr Lev said he first shot a bodyguard in the head with a gun concealed in a box of chocolates.

Yediot Ahronot said masked commandos then rushed inside the villa and one of the agents ran upstairs with Mr Lev behind him.

"He shot Abu Jihad first," Mr Lev said in his account.

"It looked like he was holding a gun. Then I shot him, a long burst, careful not to hurt his wife who showed up. He died. Other combatants confirmed the kill."

The newspaper said a second bodyguard and a gardener who was sleeping in the basement were also killed.

Mr Lev said: "It was too bad about the gardener. But in operations like this, you have to ensure that all potential resistance is neutralised."

Israel's military has so far not commented on the article.

The manner of Yasser Arafat's own death has been the subject of controversy.

He died a military hospital in Paris in 2004 reportedly following a stroke resulting from a blood disorder.

However, French prosecutors have launched a murder inquiry after his family claimed he was poisoned with polonium-210, a radioactive element.

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