Benyamin Ben-Eliezer, the Housing Minister, said the officer, Haim Nahmani, who worked for Shin Bet, Israel's General Security Service, was 'murdered in the most brutal fashion by a Hamas activist'. His emotional statement on Israel's Army radio, fuelled fears of a new and lethal cycle of reprisal by Hamas for last month's deportation to south Lebanon of 415 Palestinians, mainly Hamas supporters.
The deportations, which were ordered by the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, were in direct retaliation for the kidnap and murder by Hamas of an Israeli border guard, Nissim Toledano, on 16 December. If it is proved that this latest murder is the work of Hamas, Mr Rabin might take further steps against the organisation.
Mr Rabin's critics around the world have warned him that the deportations risked worsening Arab-Israeli violence. Mr Ben- Eliezer said last night: 'All those who speak regretfully today about the deportations should know we are talking about a group from which this murderer comes. The people of Israel should see now who they are dealing with.'
Details of Mr Nahmani's murder were sketchy last night and the government claim that it was the work of Hamas came several hours afterwards. However, the nature of the killing had already brought comparisons with the death of Toledano.
Nahmani was murdered in Rehavia, a prosperous district in west Jerusalem where middle class Israelis live largely secure from direct confrontation with Palestinians in east Jerusalem. Nahmani was stabbed and beaten all over his body with a hammer. Toledano was kidnapped from the town of Lod - again in the heart of Israel proper - and was later stabbed and beaten to death.
Soon after Nahmani's death Israeli security sources stated that the identity of the killer was known, leading to speculation that the Shin Bet officer was meeting a Palestinian informer, probably at a safe house, when the murder took place.
In Palestinian society Shin Bet is probably the most loathed branch of the Israeli security forces, responsible for the undercover operations that enforce the occupation, and for recruiting collaborators.
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