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Israeli operative interview reveals details of PLO co-founder's assassination

By Sara Sidner and Kareem Khadder, CNN
updated 9:17 PM EDT, Thu November 1, 2012
A picture taken on April 22, 1987 shows late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, consulting with Fatah military chief Khalil al-Wazir.
A picture taken on April 22, 1987 shows late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, consulting with Fatah military chief Khalil al-Wazir.
  • Abu Jihad was a co-founder of the Palestine Liberation Organization
  • He was killed by gunfire in 1988, at a Tunisian villa
  • A now-dead Israeli agent claimed in an interview 12 years ago that he killed Abu Jihad
  • Israel's censor is for the first time allowing the interview to be published

Jerusalem (CNN) -- The family of one of the men who founded the Palestine Liberation Organization says they have always believed he was assassinated by Israel, and now they have proof.

Israel's censor is for the first time allowing a newspaper to publish a 12-year-old interview with the now-dead Israeli agent who claimed he killed Khalil al-Wazir, widely known as Abu Jihad.

Abu Jihad helped found the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, alongside the man who became the symbol of the Palestinian struggle, Yasser Arafat. Abu Jihad was killed by gunfire in Tunisia in 1988, in a villa in Tunis. His wife witnessed the assassination.

Murder inquiry launched in Arafat's death

The Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth obtained access to an interview done with operative Nahum Lev, who died in 2000. For 12 years the Lev interview -- done by reporter Ronen Bergman -- was kept from the public.

The newspaper initially released a few of Lev's reported quotes, including one in which he said he shot Abu Jihad with no hesitation after reading the file that Israeli intelligence had on him. He said what he read connected the Palestinian leader to horrific acts against civilians.

Two bodyguards and a gardener were also shot and killed in the raid in Tunis.

The newspaper said Mossad, IsraelĀ¹s famed intelligence agency, oversaw the assassination and Israel's commando unit carried it out.

The account by the Israeli operative gives an extremely rare glimpse into the details of an assassination and who was involved. More details of the interview are expected to be released.

A family member of Abu Jihad who did not want to be identified told CNN, "We already knew all the terrible details of his death. Knowing the name of the person who carried it out has no added value."

Abu Jihad was instrumental in the first uprising against the Israeli occupation known as the first Intifada, which began in late 1987.

At the time of the assassination, the Israeli prime minister was Yitzhak Shamir. Ehud Barak who is now Israel's defense minister, was Israel's deputy chief of staff.

The publication of the interview comes at an interesting time. This month French investigators are expected in Ramallah to look into the death of PLO leader Arafat. Arafat's wife believes he was murdered -- questions were raised about how Arafat died after traces of polonium-210, a highly radioactive element, were found on his personal belongings. Yasser Arafat died in a hospital in Paris, France in 2004.

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