The orders prepared by the Judea and Samaria Division for the IDF operation in Nablus last week by a Duvdevan commando unit stated clearly that the unit "was to carry out a raid and capture the wanted men." This wording of the order was passed on to the unit with the approval of GOC Central Command. It was received on Friday December 25, several hours before the raid on the homes of the three suspects in the murder of Rabbi Meir Hai the previous day near Shavei Shomron.

The orders did not include instructions to kill any of the three wanted men. The senior officers who spoke with Haaretz stressed that the soldiers were not given any verbal instructions that were different from those in writing.

An evaluation of the testimonies of family members and the IDF officers suggests that this was not an operation to assassinate. However, the three, Adnan Subuh, Raad Sarkaji and Ghassan Abu Shreikh, were killed by the soldiers, even though two of them were not armed, and it does not even appear that they were trying to escape - a fact that the IDF does not dispute.

Family members of the dead are alleging that the three were executed, and say that the Israeli claims that the three were involved in the killing of Rabbi Hai, 32 hours prior to the incident, are lies. The weapon that the security establishment in Israel says were used to kill the rabbi was found in the home of the third wanted man, Subuh. A ballistic examination proved it was the weapon.

But it is difficult not to wonder how two unarmed men, nearly 40 years old, sleeping in bed near their children and not behaving as wanted men, were killed without even having attempted to escape. It appears that, like in many other operations of this sort, the reality on the ground, and especially early intelligence on the three suspects, predetermined the result of the operation.

The Duvdevan commandos were told that the suspects might be armed and that they murdered Rabbi Hai.

Sources in the IDF argue that the information on the role of the three in the murder was "certain." In such case, any unnecessary movement by one of the "targets" may be life-threatening because it might mean they are going for a weapon. Indeed, an examination of the testimonies of the families and the IDF officers involved in the details of the operation suggests that the two wanted men hesitated in surrendering to the soldiers who came to arrest them, and did move suspiciously, which in turn led to the opening of lethal fire against them.

"We did not murder or assassinate," one of the IDF officers said. "In such instances the security of our forces precedes the security of the enemy."

The Abu Shreikh home

A huge poster of the elder brother, Nayef, was at the top of the stairs in the Abu Shreikh home. He was one of the leaders of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades at the start of the second intifada and was killed by the IDF. Another brother, Nihad, has been in an Israeli prison for the past three years.

The mother of Ghassan, Umm Nayef, says that during the night she heard sounds in the street, and at 2 A.M. she heard a blast. "They blew up the entrance to the inner yard and there was a lot of shouting and smoke. I shouted at them that I was old and told my family 'the Jews, the Jews.' Jihad, my son, went down first, and then his wife and their children. The soldiers beat them and asked them where Ghassan was."

"We all came down and Ghassan was last. But when he was coming downstairs, when he reached the last step, they shot and killed him. They did not say anything, they did not warn - they just shot him. They claimed that there is another person in the house, but we explained that there is no one. They searched the house, turned it over and found no weapons," she continued.

"Ghassan was never a wanted man and had never been arrested," his mother insisted. "He had no connection with the [Palestinian] factions. All his life he was a car electrician. Now his child has nightmares, wakes up shouting 'father, father.' What do you think he will do when he grows up?"

The IDF officers' version is that "the brother came down first. He came slowly, as he had been told to do, and turned before the soldier in order to show that he had nothing under his shirt. The rest of the family did the same except for the wanted man. After a few minutes delay, two stun grenades were thrown in, and the wanted man came out running down the stairs. The soldiers called out in Arabic for him to stop but he continued running. When he came within 2.5 meters away from one of the soldiers, there was no choice but to shoot him."

The run down the staircase may suggest that he was trying to escape through the yard, without realizing that the soldiers had surrounded it. "You must understand that once we surprised the wanted man, each minute that passes he could be surprising us," one of the officers explained.

The Sarkaji home

Raad Sarkaji opened a business selling refrigerators recently. He had been released less than a year ago from an Israeli prison after a seven-year sentence. His wife, Thani, is pregnant in her fifth month. She still wears the blood-soaked nightgown she wore that night. "These are his brains," she says, pointing to the bloodstained wall.

"A little before 3 A.M., I heard a huge blast. We were in bed and said that it must be the army. I heard them speaking Hebrew, and the shooting began before they said a thing. We got to the first door and Raad shouted in Hebrew 'wait, wait.' We went outside, he in front, and the minute he passed the door they shot and killed him. I was injured in the leg and fell backward, and he fell into my arms. I shouted 'Raad, Raad,' and then all his brain fell onto my hands," she recounts.

"Seven soldiers jumped in, and one of them walked up to him and shot him a few times. I shouted that I am pregnant, and to leave me. They began searching the house and told me to call the children, who were in their grandmother's house on the other side."

Walid, a 10-year-old, says that the officer "asked me in Arabic where is my father's weapon and I told him that he had none."

In this case too, the IDF version is different. "The wanted man came out of the room and realized that it was the army, and rushed back inside," an officer who was on the scene says. "The force commander called to his soldiers to make sure he did not have a weapon. Several minutes later he came out again, behind his wife. His hands were hidden. The soldiers called out to him repeatedly, in Arabic, to lift his hands, and he did not do so. There was little choice. The threat to the soldiers was just too great."