PARIS (Apr. 19)
The Tunisian government asked the United Nations Security Council Tuesday to condemn Israel for what it called “the wanton murder” of Khalil al-Wazir, second in command of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
At the United Nations in New York, officials said the council members would convene behind closed doors Wednesday morning to consider Tunisia’s request.
President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia has instructed his foreign minister, Mahmoud Mestri, to use “all the diplomatic means at his disposal” to have the 15-member Security Council condemn Israel.
Mestri met Monday with the ambassadors of the five permanent members of the council, urging them to back his government’s demand. Tunisian pressure is directed primarily on the United States, which two years ago vetoed a resolution condemning Israel for bombing PLO headquarters in Tunisia.
The assassination already has been widely denounced. The French government expressed its “deep regret” Tuesday and said the killing “will be a new obstacle to a peaceful settlement and the peace process” advanced by U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz.
The Scandinavian, Dutch, Belgian, Spanish and Greek governments also have deplored the killing and see it as a setback for Middle East peace.
In Washington, the State Department condemned the killing Monday as an “act of political assassination,” but on Tuesday said it had no comment on whether Israel was responsible.
The call for Security Council action came after an investigating commission appointed by the Tunisian president accused Israel of the assassination. Wazir, who used the nom de guerre Abu Jihad (father of holy war), headed Al Fatah, the PLO’s mainstream terrorist branch. Israelis claimed he was directing the four-month-old Palestinian uprising in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
His murder, carefully planned and organized, was carried out by a team of commandos, armed with automatic weapons, who invaded Wazir’s villa in the Sidi Bou suburb of Tunis early Saturday morning.
The Tunisian presidential commission said the killers used sophisticated methods and technology “which only modern states are capable of mustering.” It claimed an Israel Air Force Boeing 707 flew close to Tunis at the time of the killing to jam communications to and from Sidi Bou.
SENIOR IDF OFFICER LINKED
According to the commission’s report, a senior Israel Defense Force officer was in charge of the operation. The Paris newspaper Le Monde said Tuesday that the officer was Gen. Ehud Barak, deputy to the IDF chief of staff, Gen. Dan Shomron.
Meanwhile, thousands of people attended funeral services for Wazir in the Tunis suburb of Soukra. His body was flown from Tunis on Tuesday to Damascus, where it will be buried at a Palestinian refugee camp in Yarmuk, outside the Syrian capital.
PLO chief Yasir Arafat did not accompany the body of his aide to Syria, a country from which he himself was unceremoniously ousted in 1983. The Tunisian interior minister, Habib Ammar, did go there as the personal representative of the president.
Also accompanying the coffin were Farouk Kaddoumi, the PLO’s foreign policy spokesman and Naif Hawatmeh, head of the Marxist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a PLO breakaway group. Both men had been political opponents of Wazir in his lifetime.
SECOND FUNERAL IN SYRIA
The slain leader will have a second funeral in Damascus, at the request of family members who live there. The fact that Syrian President Hafez Assad agreed to this indicates a thawing of relations between Assad’s regime and the PLO, according to Palestinian sources.
Egypt and Jordan reportedly refused to permit Wazir to be buried on their soil.
The PLO is expected to have a difficult time replacing him. Its executive council will have to select someone and also to decide what policy to follow.
If it abstains from reacting to the assassination, the effect could be devastating on the morale of Palestinians in the Israeli-administered territories and in the refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
But if the PLO launches a new wave of terrorist attacks on Israeli and Jewish targets in Israel and abroad, it would lose its newly won sympathy and improved image in the Western world.
(Contributing to this story were correspondents Yitzhak Rabi at the United Nations and David Friedman in Washington.)