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26 Jan, 2009 13:53

Don’t get taken alive, Israeli soldiers told

Don’t get taken alive, Israeli soldiers told

Israeli soldiers fighting in Gaza this month were ordered to kill themselves rather than be captured, according to the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot.

Troops were also told to kill any Israeli soldier they saw being taken by Hamas. “No matter what happens, no one will be kidnapped,” the paper quotes one unnamed company commander as telling his troops before the battle began. “We will not have a Gilad Shalit 2,” he said.

Shalit, an Israeli corporal taken prisoner three years ago, is still being held by Hamas. The militant group is demanding the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, including hundreds convicted of terrorism, in exchange for him.

The newspaper quotes similar orders given in different field units which apparently reflect a new army policy. In the past, there were standing instructions, known as “Hannibal mode”, for firing at a vehicle bearing soldiers into captivity. The idea was to disable the vehicle and permit a rescue team to reach it, even it meant putting the captured soldier’s life at risk.

The new orders tighten those instructions, by apparently permitting the vehicle to be blown up. A soldier in a commando unit which operated behind Hamas lines said his unit was equipped with “special weapons”. According to the unnamed cammando: “we were instructed to use them also against any vehicle carrying a kidnapped soldier.”

A company commander told the newspaper that he had instructed his men to resist being taken prisoner “even if this costs you your life”. Israel’s Channel Ten television broadcast a recording from a battalion commander to his men just before they entered the Gaza Strip in which he says that one of Hamas’ principal goals was to capture soldiers in order to gain the freedom of imprisoned terrorists. “No soldier from the battalion will be kidnapped even if that means he blows up on his own grenade together with whoever wants to take him.”

Israeli officers reported several attempts, none successful, to kidnap Israeli soldiers during the house-to-house fighting in Gaza and to spirit them away through tunnels.

In its periodic wars with Arab states, Israel has had prisoners fall into their hands but at the end of the wars all prisoners on both sides were exchanged. However, in its skirmishes with non-state militant groups in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, Israel has had to give up hundreds of prisoners, in one case more than 1,000 prisoners – mostly Palestinian, sometimes Lebanese – in exchange for a handful of Israeli captives or for the bodies of dead soldiers.

Contrary views about the stricter “Hannibal mode” were voiced yesterday by the fathers of two soldiers who had been taken captive by Hezbollah in Lebanon after being mortally wounded. “It’s an absolutely logical decision,” said Haim Avrahami. “Better to pay the price of a soldier and spare him, his family and the nation the awful agony [of his imprisonment].”

Zvi Regev, father of one of the two soldiers whose capture by Hezbollah in 2006 touched off a month-long war, condemned the new instructions. “We must leave a window of hope that the soldier will return,” he said. “I’m shocked just to hear of the possibility that our soldiers will get orders to fire on other soldiers of ours.” The bodies of captured soldiers were returned in exchange for hundreds of Arab prisoners.

Meanwhile, a Kuwaiti newspaper reported that the number two in Hamas in Gaza, Mahmoud Zohar, was wounded in the final days of fighting in Gaza and taken by ambulance to a Cairo hospital. There was no indication of his condition and no confirmation from other sources. The number three leader, Interior Minister Said Siam, was killed in a targeted air strike. The Kuwaiti newspaper, citing Palestinian sources, said Hamas had executed one of Siam’s bodyguards whom it accused of informing Israel of Siam’s whereabouts.

Abraham Rabinovich for RT