An Israeli military historian has said he knew of hundreds of Egyptian prisoners of war who were killed during the 1967 Six-Day War by Israel Defense Force troops, including a unit headed by the current Israeli housing minister.
Military historian Aryeh Yitzhaki of Bar-Ilan University told Israel Radio on Wednesday that the killings involved a crack unit led by now Housing Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer.
Yitzhaki said the executions of 300 to 400 Egyptian commandos in El Arish was the worst case he knew, given that many of the Egyptians had surrendered.
They were killed by members of the Shaked commando unit under the command of Ben-Eliezer, a lieutenant colonel at the time, he said.
Ben-Eliezer said he was unaware of any prisoner killings.
Yitzhaki’s comments come after the Israeli Foreign Ministry recently asked the IDF to look into reports that Israeli troops had killed Egyptian prisoners of war during the Sinai Campaign of 1956.
The ministry’s directive was prompted by a retired general’s disclosure to the Israeli media earlier this month that he had ordered the killing of 49 Egyptian prisoners of war during the October 1956 Sinai Campaign.
Reserve Brig. Gen Aryeh Biro said during the Sinai Campaign his troops had been ordered to move south. Lacking resources to guard the prisoners, he ordered their executions.
Referring to the Six-Day War, Yitzhaki said not only were the executions known, but a report he prepared in 1968 on the deaths was not released under instruction from higher authorities.
Responding to the reports, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said he though such incidents were exceptions to the norm and that they should be condemned by all.
In a letter to Rabin, Education Minister Amnon Rubinstein requested that Biro be demoted in light of the reports.
Rabin said because Biro no longer took part in reserve duties, he did not plan to take further action against him.
Meanwhile, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Eli Dayan met with Egypt’s ambassador to Israel, Mohammed Bassiouni about the issue on Wednesday. Dayan said he forwarded all information he had received to the Egyptians.
Bassiouni later said ties between the two countries would not be affected by the affair.
“The relations are too long and too deep to be hurt by this issue,” he said.