Ben-Eliezer Cancels Egypt Visit Amid Row Over 1967 War Charges

Israeli whose film sparked row: Hardline Egyptians misrepresented film to attack peace with Israel.

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Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer has cancelled his scheduled visit to Egypt in the wake of a row over media reports - denied by Ben-Eliezer - that during the 1967 Six-Day War, troops under his command executed 250 captured Egyptian soldiers.

Ben-Eliezer was to have met with Egyptian Chief of Intelligence Omar Suleiman Thursday. An aide to Ben-Eliezer confirmed the cancellation on Monday.

The allegations arose from media reports of material included in "Ruach Shaked" [The Spirit of Shaked] a documentary film by Israeli journalist Ron Edelist. The film aired on Israel Channel 1 television last week.

The reports said that Ben-Eliezer's Shaked commando unit executed 250 Egyptian prisoners-of-war in the Sinai peninsula immediately after the cessation of hostilities, rather than transfer them to prison camps. The reports sparked outrage in Egypt.

Edelist said in remarks broadcast Monday that the media reports misrepresented the material in the film. He said the dead were not Egyptian POWs, but Palestinian fedayoun fighters, and that they were killed in battle, not executed.

"The Egyptians are speaking of murder, of 250 of their soldiers." In fact, Edelist told Army Radio, "This was not murder, this was in the course of a battle."

Edelist said the Shaked commandos were fighting a Palestinian commando battalion, with which the Shaked unit had fought a number of gun battles prior to the war.

"What happened was that there were (Israeli) fighters waging battle against a retreating (Palestinian) commando battalion," Edelist said. "During this battle, you could say there was excessive use of force, (but) it was all in the context of war: Not prisoners, not prisoner-of-war camps, not people who put their hands up."

According to Edelist, hardline opposition elements in Egypt had misrepresented the facts and the message of the film in order to attack Israel's peace with Egypt.

Ben-Eliezer's spokesman, Ronen Moshe, said Monday that the allegations were untrue, but the minister and his Egyptian hosts decided to put off his visit anyway.

"In light of the atmosphere, which is unsuitable for a visit, the two sides decided to postpone the visit to another date in the near future," Moshe said.

MP calls for resumed state of war On Sunday, Egypt's deputy foreign minister for legal affairs, Abdel Aziz Seif al-Nasr, said Egypt had summoned Israeli ambassador Shalom Cohen to demand an explanation for the contents of the documentary. Two ruling party lawmakers demanded the ambassador's expulsion, calling him a dog and an apostate. Another called in a special parliamentary session for a declaration of war on Israel.

Egypt also asked its ambassador in Tel Aviv to obtain a copy of the film from the Israeli government, al-Nasr said.

Salaam al-Ruqi'i, an independent Egyptian lawmaker from the Sinai peninsula, said: "The only way this can be eased is through a declaration of a state of war."

"We are still finding mass graves of Egyptian soldiers, and two months ago we extracted the remains of unarmed Egyptian soldiers and civilians from Sinai."

Reports of wartime executions in the Sinai peninsula have surfaced before. In 1995, a retired IDF officer told a newspaper of the killing of 49 Egyptian prisoners of war during the 1956 Sinai Campaign. An Israeli inquiry concluded that both Egyptian and IDF troops had killed prisoners.

IDF historian Arieh Yitzhaki said more than a decade ago that his research showed Israeli troops killed 300 Egyptian prisoners of war in 1967. Israel said soldiers on both sides committed atrocities.

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