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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 September, 2003, 21:27 GMT 22:27 UK
Refusenik Israeli pilots under fire

A group of Israeli air force reservist pilots have been widely condemned at home for their refusal to take part in attacks on the Palestinian territories.

Israel's military and political leaders, as well as the media, have hit back hard against the 27 pilots who signed a letter refusing to carry out targeted killings or other operations in the West Bank and Gaza because they considered them "immoral and illegal".

According to Israeli radio, the deputy chief of the Israeli air force, Brigadier General Eli'ezer Skeydi, accused the pilots themselves of "immoral" action.

He was quoted as saying they were making "cynical use of the Israeli air force to express a civilian view".

This matter will be dealt with appropriately by the defence establishment
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

He defended the tactics employed by Israeli forces who, he said, were making "a major effort to prevent harm to innocent people".

And Israel's chief of staff, Moshe Ya'alon, expressed alarm that the pilots had bypassed military commanders to speak directly to the media about concerns which were "political and not ethical".

"I feel that what they did should not be associated with the IDF in any way," he said.

The view from Israel's political leaders was equally damning.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the "IDF (Israel Defence Forces) is not an organisation where you can do as you please," in comments carried by IDF radio. "This matter will be dealt with appropriately by the defence establishment."

Foreign Minister Shaul Mofaz called the pilots "conscientious objectors in uniform", adding that their action had "nothing to do with morals".

'Supersonic boom'

And newspaper commentators across Israel also questioned the pilots' rationale in submitting their joint letter.

"The reasoning is crooked and the conclusion is impossible," according to Nahum Barne'a, writing in Yediot Aharonot.

"There is no army and there can be no army where you can do as you please," he continued. "They should file away their rash letter or be released from military service."

A military commentator worried about the impact of events on the future of the armed forces.

"The pilots' rebellion is an earthquake with a potential for disaster, whose magnitude is difficult to assess at present," he told Yediot Aharonot. "If this storm does not go way quickly, it could drag with it other parts of the army and not only the air force."

He added the letter was "dangerous", because it set a "precedent".

But a columnist in Ha'aretz was less troubled by the whole affair, adding that it would do little to dent the image of Israel's armed forces.

"The petition, despite its supersonic boom in the press, barely scratches the metal surface," he said, adding that "a pelican hitting a cockpit does more damage".

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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