One year on, Israel persists with death squads

One year on, Israel persists with death squads

War on Terrorism: Assassinations

By Phil Reeves

09 November 2001

They have blown up cars and kitchens. They have fired missiles from 


helicopters hovering several miles away. They have picked off their

victims from afar with high-powered snipers' rifles. There are even

plausible claims that they  or their collaborators  have planted 


devices in telephone receivers and car headrests that blow off a man's

head in an instant.

Israel's death squads have not lacked ingenuity in the manner in which

they have pursued their government's policy of assassinating suspects 


the 14-month war with the Palestinians.

Exactly a year has elapsed since Israel first restored extra-judicial

killings to its repertoire of military tactics in its efforts to 


what began as a popular uprising, turning slowly into an armed 


The exact numbers of the victims vary  the Israeli Prime Minister, 


Sharon, who personally approves all such killings, admitted to 20 to 30 


a recent Newsweek interview. But he has stated in the past that Israel

will sometimes deny its undercover operations, and refuse to comment on


There is little doubt the figure is larger. Statistics collated by the

Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG) show that at least 59

Palestinians have been assassinated in the past year, including 21

passers-by. Even this may be an underestimate.

The international community has repeatedly condemned the killings, 


they are illegal and that, in the long run, they increase violent

resistance to Israel's occupation.

Human rights groups have raised many urgent concerns, from the manner 


which Israeli intelligence selects targets  which is not open to 


by any judiciary  to evidence that some victims could have been 


instead of killed.

"State enforcement of a policy of assassinations is in direct

contravention of international human rights law, and especially of the

right to life and the right to fair trial," a statement from the PHRMG

said yesterday, "People suspected of illegal activities must be 


and brought to trial, even in a situation of armed conflict."

But Israel has continued. It argues they are pre-emptive strikes 


attacks on Israelis  notably suicide bombers, who have killed 56 people 


Israel since this intifada began. It makes no secret of its methods  Mr

Sharon boasted this week that "not a day goes by in which we do not

succeed in striking at the murderers".

On 8 November last year, in Beit Sahour, a Palestinian town on the edge 


Bethlehem, Israeli combat helicopters blasted missiles into a pick-up

truck. They got their man  Hussein Abayat, 34, a gunman from Fatah, the

movement nominally controlled by the Pales-tinian leader, Yasser 


Posters of Abayat in paramilitary fatigues posing with a large 


still adorn the walls of Bethlehem, where he  like all Israel's victims

is considered a martyr. But the assassins also killed two middle-aged

women who happened to be passing, murders that did not discourage the

Israel army from congratulating itself on a successful "targeted 


A monument to the two woman stands where they died.

But the most notorious assassination came at the end of August when

Israeli helicopters hovering over the West Bank town of Ramallah fired 


missiles through the windows of the leader of the Popular Front for the

Liberation of Palestine, Abu Ali Mustafa, 64, decapitating him as he 


in his swivel chair. As the leader of an established PLO faction  who

according to Palestinians was a politician rather than a member of the

PFLP's military wing  he was the most senior figure to be picked off by

the Israelis.

Seven weeks later, the PFLP sought revenge, by infiltrating a Jerusalem

hotel and assassinating Israel's Tourism Minister, Rechavem Zeevi, 


support for ethnically cleansing the West Bank and Gaza of Arabs had 


made him an enemy of the Palestinians.

Israel's counter-attack  the largest invasion of Palestinian-run areas 


West Bank towns since the Oslo process began  is still unfinished; 


troops were still in Jenin and Tulkarm last night. The evidence 


Israel will now step up the pace of extra-judicial killings.

The pressure from the United States has diminished, not least because

America will surely resort to similar tactics in its "war on terror". 


week, Raanan Gissin, a spokes-man for Mr Sharon, said Israel will now 


using, when necessary, guerrilla warfare against terrorism rather than

large-scale forces moving into the area ... We'll rely more on 


intelligence." Even Shimon Peres, the Israeli Foreign Minister, who is

routinely portrayed in the press as a Nobel peace prize-winning "dove",

makes no apology for Israel's methods.

This week Mr Peres was confronted in Paris by a parliamentarian who

questioned him over the "murder of Palestinian activists". He retorted

that the French had "no experience" of "suicide terrorist attacks", 


that the "the moment a terrorist sets out, it is impossible to stop 


He is ready to die anyway."

But this is unlikely to silence Israel's critics. They say that, in the

case of many victims, there was no evidence that they were on a mission 


attack Israelis, let alone that they were suicide bombers.


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