JERUSALEM -- A Palestinian human rights agency has charged that Israeli military units working undercover in the occupied territories have killed 47 Palestinians, many of them unarmed youths.
The existence of the undercover units, in which soldiers dress as Arab men and women to carry out raids, make arrests and spy on Palestinians in the occupied territories, was finally admitted in a documentary on Israeli state television Friday.
Lee O'Brien, a researcher at the Palestinian Human Rights Information Center, said field workers had traced 47 deaths over the past two years to the undercover units.
In the documentary, whose release was approved by Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Ehud Barak, army officials acknowledged that some deaths had occurred during raids by the undercover soldiers. But the documentary did not reveal the number of deaths or the circumstances.
Public uproar over the disclosures prompted Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to ban the release of further information on the special units, and military spokesmen would not comment on the allegations yesterday.
According to the documentary, the units began work in late 1988. In 1989, the human rights group said, undercover soldiers killed 26 Palestinians and 11 in 1990. From January to May this year, the agency counted 10 killings.
pTC "I don't think in any of the cases does the army deny the deaths, they just don't acknowledge that it was a special squad that was involved," Ms. O'Brien said.
Most of the controversy so far has surrounded the decision to release the documentary. The use of the undercover unit, which military officials said would be increased, has been largely supported.
"About what should we be ashamed? What is there to hide? It's good to know that something special about the Israeli Defense Forces hasn't disappeared," wrote Yoel Marcus in Ha'aretz. "The Jewish smarts still exist and are at present merely wearing a kaffiyeh and a mask."
Ms. O'Brien said few of the deaths have resulted in investigations or court cases. "Families can bring complaints, but they're unwilling," she said. "Either they're afraid, or they're convinced they'll lose anyway."
One case now being prosecuted in a Tel Aviv military court
charges a lieutenant colonel commanding one of the units in the death of Mahmud Abu Shamleh, 22, of the Breij refugee camp, military sources told the Yediot Aharonot newspaper yesterday. Mr. Shamleh was killed with his friend, Maher Makadi, 18, in an ambush on their return to the refugee camp, the newspaper said.
The lieutenant colonel is being prosecuted for ordering a reserve officer to shoot at the fleeing men's bodies rather than at their legs, the newspaper said.
The agency collected its figures by investigating military clashes reported in the Jerusalem Post and the Hebrew-language press. Field workers found witnesses and documented the circumstances of the deaths, along with the names and addresses of the victims.
The human rights organization said 22 of the dead were masked youths, who it said were not armed. "The majority were writing graffiti while a few were either manning barricades or calling slogans through loudspeakers," it said.
Ten of the Palestinians killed were wanted by military authorities. According to the published reports, Ms. O'Brien said, only six of the 10were armed when they were killed. Three of the dead were passers-by who were shot in error, the agency said. Twelve were reported killed during stone-throwing clashes, army raids or while manning barricades.