In a new allegation of prisoner killings, an Israeli army veteran said today that he witnessed two army cooks stab to death three Egyptian prisoners of war in the 1967 Middle East war.
Veteran, author and former parliament member Michael Bar-Zohar spoke out on Israel Radio about the killings a day after Egypt asked Israel to investigate claims by a retired Israeli general that he and another officer shot to death 49 Egyptian POWs in the 1956 Middle East war.Bar-Zohar said the killings took place in the Sinai Peninsula in June 1967.
"I saw suddenly a gathering of soldiers near a barbed-wire fence. I went there and saw with my own eyes . . . two cooks with knives in broad daylight. They simply slaughtered three prisoners," Bar-Zohar said.
"This incident has haunted me for a long time. I saw this murder and lots of soldiers stood around me and no one lifted a finger."
Bar-Zohar said he took the cooks to the tent of the battalion commander, and that they were arrested. He did not say what then happened to them.
Bar-Zohar said he kept quiet about the killings because he feared Arab troops would re-tal-i-ate.
Israeli military historian Meir Pail said he knew of several cases in which officers or enlisted men killed Arab POWs or civilians.
He said the offenders were sentenced secretly by military courts, but that the military censor barred publication of such cases until recently.
"The idea was that it is better to deal with this in the closed circle of the military," Pail, a colonel in the army reserves and battalion commander in the 1956 war, told The Associated Press.
The army spokesman's office had no immediate comment. An Israeli official said on condition of anonymity that Israeli pilots and other prisoners had been killed by Egypt and that neither country had an interest in making an issue of such incidents now.
Zeev Schul, a former Israeli military correspondent, said that in the 1948 Middle East war, Egyptian troops murdered an Israeli reconnaissance squad, then cut off the men's sex organs and gouged out their eyes. The six Israeli soldiers were found propped up against sand dunes, their eyes placed in their hands, Schul said.
Bar-Zohar's disclosure came a week after retired Gen. Arye Biro acknowledged in newspaper and TV interviews that he ordered the killing of 49 Egyptian POWs during the October 1956 Sinai Campaign.
Biro, then a platoon commander, said he received orders to move south in the Sinai, but lacked troops to guard the prisoners. Biro said he decided to kill them because they might provide the Egyptian army with valuable intelligence if freed.
Israel's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday asked the army to look into the POWs' deaths, responding to a demand by Egypt for an investigation.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who is also defense minister and was chief of staff in the 1967 war, refused comment, saying "I regret things that have been said so far, and I won't add anything to this."
Uri Avneri, a journalist and former member of parliament, filed complaints this month with the police against Biro and two other retired officers. Avneri said today that the killings of POWs were tolerated by the army command, and that offenders were not tried or kicked out of the army.
Pail said the army did punish those involved in killing POWs or civilians and said he knew of three or four cases in which soldiers went to prison for such offenses.
Pail said that after the 1956 war, then-chief of staff Moshe Dayan called together battalion commanders and brought up the killings of POWs carried out by the 890th battalion commanded by Rafael Eitan, today a member of parliament who heads the right-wing Tzomet Party.