JERUSALEM -- More than 24 years after Palestinian military leader Khalil Ibrahim Wazir was assassinated in Tunisia, Israel acknowledged for the first time that its spy agency Mossad carried out the killing.
Wazir, one of the founders of the Fatah Party and a top aide to the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, was viewed by Israel as a terrorist and by Palestinians as a freedom fighter.
After refusing for years to publicly confirm Israel's role in the April 16, 1988, assassination, the nation's military censors on Thursday permitted the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot to publish an interview with the commander who led the secret mission. The article had reportedly been suppressed by censors for more than a decade.
Wazir, also known as Abu Jihad, was believed to have been behind numerous strikes against Israelis, including a 1978 bus-hijacking attack that killed 38 Israelis, and to have helped organize the 1987 Palestinian uprising known as the first Intifada from his base in Tunisia.
The killing was condemned by the United States and international community and was widely believed to have been carried out by Israel.
According to the report, 26 Israeli commandos participated in the attack on Wazir’s heavily guarded home, including two agents who approached the house posing as a vacationing couple but carrying guns with silencers.
[Updated, 11:19 a.m. Nov. 1: The mission’s commander was Nahum Lev, who died in a 2000 motorcycle accident shortly after giving an interview about the operation to Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman.
He told Bergman that he and a male soldier dressed as a woman were the pair who posed as vacationers. The first team killed a bodyguard asleep in his car, while other squads entered the home, killing other guards as well as a gardener who got in the way.
“It was too bad about the gardener,” Lev told the journalist. “But in operations like this, you have to ensure that all potential resistance is neutralized.”
Lev said Wazir was found and shot in an upstairs room as his wife stood nearby. The team escaped without suffering any casualties.]
-- Edmund Sanders
Photo: Khalil Ibrahim Wazir, also known as Abu Jihad, the Palestine Liberation Organization's military chief on Feb. 10, 1986, in Amman, Jordan. Credit: John Rice / Associated Press