Israeli air force grounds 'refuseniks'

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The Independent Online

The Israeli air force grounded 27 reservist pilots yesterday after they refused to take part in future assassinations of Palestinian militants.

The Israeli air force grounded 27 reservist pilots yesterday after they refused to take part in future assassinations of Palestinian militants.

Israel's political leaders reacted furiously after some of the pilots appeared on television wearing their uniforms.

In a letter to the air force commander, Dan Halutz, the pilots said that they would refuse to take part in further operations inside the occupied territories. In effect, that meant assassinations, the air force's main role in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The air force uses helicopter rockets and, less frequently, bombs launched from F16s to assassinate militants. Innocent bystanders are frequently killed. Witnesses have described helicopters firing a second time into a crowd of civilians who gathered to help the wounded.

The pilots described the air force's operation in the occupied territories as "illegal and immoral". One said: "We, who have been educated to love the state of Israel ... refuse to take part in air force attacks in civilian population centres." The former Israeli president, Ezer Weizman, accused the pilots of having no "morality", and said the letter was a "disgrace". They should "put their tail between their legs" and get out of the air force, he added.

The pilots have joined the many Israeli army reservists who refuse to serve in the occupied territories on moral principles - the so-called refuseniks. General Halutz said that he would deal with the pilots in the same way that the army dealt with its refuseniks. The army has made an example of a select few, who have been sentenced to long jail terms.

Israeli raids continued in the occupied territories yesterday. Dina Issa, a Palestinian girl aged three, and an Islamic Jihad leader were killed. An Israeli soldier and three militants were also killed.

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