Israelis `shot own officer'

When an Israeli convoy was ambushed by Hizbollah guerrillas on a misty day in southern Lebanon on 19 December, Major Kiwan Hamed, an Israeli Druze Arab, led a charge against the attackers during which he was fatally shot. But over the last week the way he died and at whose hands has become a matter of such controversy that the Israeli army has appointed a general to investigate .

The scandal erupted when an Israeli newspaper interviewed troops who had charged behind Hamed. They said he was hit by enemy fire but then killed by his own men who, after losing contact in the rain, mistook him for a pro-Iranian Hizbollah guerrilla. "We went close, a few soldiers and saw that he was lying on his side," one soldier was quoted as saying. "One carried out the verification killing procedure we were taught in many exercises - to shoot a wounded guerrilla in the head to make sure he is dead."

Last week the Israeli commander in charge of operations in southern Lebanon, Major General Amiram Levine, said that the story might well be true. He then went on to tell the weekly Kol-Bo Haifa that it had been kept from the major's family because of the "special sensitivities" of the Druze sect, 70,000-strong in Israel, who often join Israeli combat units.

The Israeli army is strenuously denying that it has a policy of killing wounded guerrillas. A spokesman said yesterday that to shoot at enemy soldiers who may or may not be wounded "is purely an infantry tactic to verify that there is no threat." Asked if there were any Hizbollah captives taken in more than 20 serious clashes in southern Lebanon over the last year, the spokesman said there were a few but "we can't release the number of prisoners".

The army says that it knows from his wounds that Hamed was first hit by weapons used by Hizbollah but an inquiry by retired Lieutenant-General Moshe Levy will determine if that is what killed him.

The family of Hamed say they regard the incident as closed but other Druze leaders are angry that General Levine should have covered up what really happened. Assad Assad, a Druze member of the Israeli parliament, said that since his community believe in immediate reincarnation they are less likely than most people to be distressed by circumstances in which somebody dies.

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