TEL AVIV (Aug. 2)
Three members of a crack Israel Defense Force undercover unit were wounded in an encounter late Saturday night with a wanted terrorist in the Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis.
The terrorist was killed and a number of other Arabs suspected of having cooperated with him were detained, an IDF spokesman announced.
“An army force that was operating in the area of Khan Yunis encountered a wanted terrorist hiding inside a house,” the army spokesman said. “Gunfire was exchanged and the terrorist was killed. The army force had three wounded, one critically.”
The army identified the terrorist as Osama Mohammad Ali Najar, a wanted Palestinian terrorist who belonged to the Fatah organization and who was suspected of shooting and wounding an Israeli citizen at the Morag junction in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 1991.
Najar escaped from custody five weeks ago while being transferred from prison for a court hearing.
Najar is suspected of involvement in the murders of numerous Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel, according to the spokesman. He is thought to have been involved in the murders of four Palestinians since his escape from prison.
Brig. Gen. Yomtov Samiah, the commanding officer in the Gaza Strip, praised the actions of the assault team during what was described as a “complex action.”
A senior officer who had participated in the encounter said that the three wounded IDF soldiers who spearheaded the assault — a lieutenant and two privates — had been hit in the first burst of fire from the man they had been seeking as soon as they broke into the building.
Najar was using a Kalachnikov assault rifle and had a large quantity of spare ammunition.
Before the intifada, Najar had served with the Israeli police, where he had received weapons training and had been cited for the accuracy of his shooting.
The shootout occurred just two days after Israel imposed tighter controls on army undercover units that pursue suspected terrorists.
More than 30 Arabs have been fatally shot this year by the units, which frequently disguise themselves as Arabs.
Tighter controls had been imposed on the units following the release of an internal army report that harshly criticized the discipline and operational performance of the units.
Samiah said there was no connection between the injuries to the three IDF soldiers and the special precautions they had taken to avoid harm to Arab civilians in the area.
IDF Chief of Staff Ehud Barak visited the scene of the clash within hours after its occurrence and noted that the IDF force had eliminated one of the country’s most wanted terrorists. But, he added, the success had come at a heavy price.