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Last Updated: Monday, 22 December, 2003, 10:00 GMT
Israelis condemn army refuseniks
Israeli tank in Jenin
The soldiers refused to participate in "repression"
Senior Israeli officials have sharply criticised a group of army commandos who have refused missions in the Palestinian territories.

Thirteen reservists from the elite Sayeret Matkal unit wrote to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon saying they would not be part of a "rule of oppression".

Deputy Defence Minister Zeev Boim told public radio the group should "face judgement", AFP news agency reported.

Three months ago, 25 pilots refused to take part in Israeli bombing raids.

"These soldiers should be stripped of their uniform and face judgement for their disobedience and rebellion, regardless of the unit in which they serve, whether they be pilots, cooks or mechanics," Mr Boim told public radio.

In their letter, the soldiers said they would no longer participate in the defence of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"We will no longer corrupt the stamp of humanity in us through carrying out the missions of an occupation army ... In the past, we fought for a justified cause [but today] we have reached the boundary of oppressing another people," the letter said.

Special weight

The refuseniks also came under fire from opposition Labour Party MP Danny Yatom, a former head of the Mossad overseas intelligence agency and deputy commander of the Sayeret Matkal, who branded their protest as "illegal".

Mr Yatom said the Sharon government's policies in the territories were exacerbating friction with the Palestinians and the armed forces but said that did not justify a refusal to serve, AFP reported.

In September, a group of 27 pilots 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".

Several hundred reserve soldiers have been sent to prison for refusing to serve in the West Bank and Gaza, but the statements from pilots and commandos carry special weight because of their elite status.

The BBC's David Chazan
"These are ordinary soldiers not special forces"

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