Occupied Jerusalem: Israel has for the first time admitted assassinating the PLO’s former number two, Abu Jihad, in a raid on the movement’s Tunis headquarters in 1988, a newspaper reported on Thursday.
The report, published in Israel’s top-selling Yediot Aharonot, said the extra-judicial killing was planned by the Mossad spy agency and carried out by the Sayeret Matkal elite commando unit.
Abu Jihad, whose real name was Khalil Al Wazir, was shot dead in the early hours of April 16, 1988, in a commando raid on the PLO headquarters by what was presumed to be Israeli agents.
“Israel killed the number two man in the PLO, Abu Jihad, in Tunis in 1988, it can now be reported. The intelligence part of the assassination was overseen by the Mossad, and the operational side was carried out by Sayeret Matkal,” the paper said.
The assassination operation was commanded by Nahum Lev who, in an interview before his death in 2000, spoke frankly about his role in it although it 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.”
Mossad did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the article.
A long-time friend and deputy to the veteran leader Yasser Arafat who headed the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Abu Jihad had played a leading role in directing the 1987-1994 intifada uprising against the Israeli occupation.
According to details in the article, 26 Sayeret Matkal commandos arrived on the beach in Tunis on the evening of April 15 and separated into two groups who were transported by car to a spot less than 500 metres from Abu Jihad’s house.
Lev and another commando disguised as a woman approached the house as if they were a couple out for an evening stroll.
On finding the first bodyguard dozing outside in a car, Lev shot him in the head with a gun equipped with a silencer that had been hidden in a large box of chocolates.
“When the other combatants received the signal that the outside guard had been neutralised, the members of the second group approached with equipment to break open the villa’s door. They rushed inside, wearing masks,” it said.
One of the agents ran up the stairs with Lev behind him.
“He shot Abu Jihad first,” said the assassin. “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.”
A second bodyguard and a gardener who was sleeping in the basement 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 neutralised.”
Publication of the interview and details about the operation were made possible after six months of negotiations between Yediot Aharonot and Israel’s military censorship, the paper said.