Israel for the first time on Thursday admitted responsibility for the assassination of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's deputy, Abu Jihad, in a cross border raid on PLO's headquarters in Tunis in 1988, lifting the lid on a closely kept secret for two and a half decades.
Israel's largest selling daily in Hebrew, Yediot Ahronoth, reported that the operation was led by Israel's espionage agency Mossad and carried out by the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit.
Abu Jihad, nom de guerre for Khalil al-Wazir, was shot dead in the early hours of April 16, 1988 in a commando raid on the Palestinian Liberation Organisation's headquarters by what was always presumed to be Israeli agents.
"Israel killed the number two man in the PLO, Abu Jihad, in Tunis in 1988, it can now be reported. The intelligence part of the assassination was overseen by the Mossad, and the operational side was carried out by Sayeret Matkal," the paper said after receiving clearance from Israeli censor.
The operation was commanded by Nahum Lev, who in an interview before his death in 2000, admitted to have shot down the Palestinian leader but it was not published.
"I had read every page of the file on him," Lev had said adding, "Abu Jihad was connected to horrific acts against civilians. He was marked for death. I shot him with no hesitation."
A long-time friend and deputy to the veteran leader Arafat who headed the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Abu Jihad is said to have played a leading role in directing the 1987-1994 intifada uprising against the Israeli occupation
Image: Arafat's deputy Abu Jihad