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Friday, 10 November, 2000, 00:46 GMT
Israel's special operations
Hussein Abeyad's car
Thursday's operation was the latest action against militant leaders
By Michael Voss in Jerusalem

Israel has a long history of assassination operations like Thursday's killing of Palestinian militia leader Hussein Abayat.

In fact, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak first made a name for himself participating in such special forces operations.

Yasser Arafat's Tanzim militia, of which Mr Abayat was a leader, is the group the Israelis blame for stoking up the unrest which has swept across the West Bank and Gaza Strip in recent weeks.

According to Major General Itzhak Itan of the Israeli Defence Force, Mr Abeyad's killing was an attack based on intelligence reports locating him in the car which was torn apart by rockets fired from a helicopter gunship.

This was the first time during the current crisis that Israel has targeted specific enemies.

Mr Barak's role

Prime Minister Ehud Barak, though, was for many years involved in such special operations.

Ehud Barak
Mr Barak has been involved in several special operations
In 1973, as a young soldier, Mr Barak was part of an elite commando force sent to Lebanon to kill three members of the Black September group, involved in the massacre of Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics.

He entered Lebanon dressed as a woman.

Fifteen years later General Barak planned and co-ordinated the killing of the PLO military commander, Abu Jihad, in Tunisia.

Failures

But not all such operations were successful.

The last known assassination attempt three years ago ended in humiliating failure.

Two Mossad agents were arrested in Jordan following an attempt to poison a leading member of the fundamentalist group Hamas.

This latest attack may have killed the targets but also left two innocent civilians dead and many more injured.

The official line is that the helicopter gunship attack should act as a deterrent to the militias and help reduce the violence.

It may play well with Israeli public opinion but with Palestinian leaders outraged and threatening retaliation this killing may prove counterproductive, increasing the vicious cycle of violence.

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