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Mideast Region Erupts Into All Out Warfare

  • A group of Palestinians who captured and killed two Israeli military hit men is just the tip of the iceberg in a region spiraling out of control.
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By Martin Mann

Three of the four Israeli soldiers in civilian clothes and an unmarked car, who were stopped by Palestinian police in the Arab city of Ramallah on Oct. 12, were put to death by an irate crowd which assumed them to be members of an undercover Is raeli assassination unit. Known as Sayaret Matkal, the killer squad has murdered do zens of suspected Islamic freedom fighters, intellectuals and activists in recent years.

The other Israeli soldier has been reported "missing." "It's no wonder the anger of the Arab street exploded," says veteran UN correspondent Jean-Luc Bouchar don, who recently returned to New York after several weeks spent in the Middle East. "To Palestinians, an en counter with an unmarked car bearing four Israeli soldiers disguised as civilians means only one thing: Sayeret Matkal, the hated military hit squad."

This special unit of the Israeli defense forces is almost unknown in the United States; its existence has never been officially recognized.

But in Palestine, it is notorious for its lethal forays against suspected Arab militants, Middle Eastern diplomatic sources at UN headquarters have told The SPOTLIGHT.

The Hebrew word sayeret means reconnaissance or commando forces, matkal is a designation suggesting that one contingent among these elite formations is assigned to performing "special tasks" under the command of the chief of staff of Israel's army.

Those "special tasks" are assassination assignments, these sources have confirmed.

They listed the noted Palestinian poet Ghassan Kanafani; Kamal Nasser, a longtime spokesman for the Palestine Liber ation Organization; and Muham mad Naj jar, a leading Arab activist, as among the best-known victims of Sayeret Matkal "termination" teams.

"But these commando units were often sent out in teams of four, disguised as a civilians, to hunt and kill lower-ranking Palestinian militants and suspected freedom fighters in the streets," related Bouchardon. "They also do hits for the Mossad [Israel's secret service]."

The operations officer in charge of Sayeret Matkal has been identified as Israeli Major General Avraham Arnan by knowledgeable diplomatic sources, who added that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, a retired (and lavishly decorated) general, himself served with a Sayeret Matkal unit as a young army officer.