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Israel admits to PLO deputy assassination

Israel has admitted to assassinating a Palestinian Liberation Organization leader 25 years ago. The country was long suspected in the killing, but military censors only recently cleared publication of the information.

Top-selling Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot published a report Thursday in which the government admitted to the killing of Khalil al-Wazir, saying the operation was planned by the Mossad spy agency.

Al-Wazir, also known as Abu Jihad, was shot dead April 16, 1988 during a commando raid on the PLO headquarters.

"Israel killed the number two man in the PLO, Abu Jihad, in Tunis in 1988, it can now be reported," the paper said. "The intelligence part of the assassination was overseen by the Mossad, and the operation side was carried out by [the commando unit] Sayeret Matkal."

'Marked for death'

Al-Wazir served as deputy to long-time PLO leader Yasser Arafat, and played a lead role in organizing the 1987-1994 intifada uprising against Israeli occupation.

Nahum Lev, who commanded the operation, spoke about the assassination before his death in 2000 in an interview that was never published.

"I had read every page of the file on him," he said. "Abu Jihad was connected to horrific acts against civilians. He was marked for death. I shot him with no hesitation."

"For us, it was the state of Israel which assassinated Abu Jihad," said Mahmud al-Alul, a former assistant to al-Wazir and current senior official in the Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

"Everybody knows who the prime minister was and the defense minister, and the heads of the security establishment," he added. "For us, they are responsible for killing him."

The assassination

Details of the operation were published after six months of negotiations between the paper and Israel's military censors.

The report says that 26 commandos arrived in two groups outside Al-Wazir's Tunis house on the evening of April 15. During the raid, Lev shot both a bodyguard and Al-Wazir himself. A second bodyguard and a gardener were also killed.

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

dr/msh (AFP, AP)