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Israel admits killing deputy of late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat

Mike Nelson / AFP - Getty Images, file

Yasser Arafat (right) consults with Khalil al-Wazir (left) during the Palestine National Congress conference in April 1987 in Algiers.

Lifting a nearly 25-year veil of secrecy, Israel has admitted that it killed the deputy of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in a 1988 raid in Tunisia.

Israel has long been suspected of slaying Khalil al-Wazir, who was better known by his nom de guerre Abu Jihad, in Tunis, the country's capital.

But only Thursday did the country's military censor clear the Yediot Ahronot daily to publish the information, including an interview with the commando who killed him.

Dozens of brazen operations have been attributed to Israel over the decades, but Israel rarely takes responsibility.

The acknowledgement gives a rare glimpse into the country's covert operations.

Abu Jihad founded the Palestinian Liberation Organization with Arafat and was blamed for a series of attacks against Israelis.

'An outlaw country'
Fatah Leader, Colonel Jibril Rojoub, told NBC News Thursday that the admission was “not news, the Palestinian people always knew that Israel was behind this assassination."

But he added that the Tunisian government now had “the right to take Israel to court.”

“This proves that Israel is an outlaw country, and this proves that all Israeli leaders belong in the ICC [International Criminal Court],” Rojoub said.

Rojoub was with Abu Jihad at his home in Tunisia hours before he was assassinated.

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In August, a French court opened a murder inquiry into the death of Arafat, following allegations by his widow, Suha, that he might have been poisoned.

Arafat died in a military hospital in Paris in November 2004 at the age of 75, a month after he was flown in a seriously ill condition from his headquarters in Ramallah, West Bank.

French court opens murder inquiry into Arafat's death

French doctors who treated him were unable to establish the cause of death, and many Arabs suspect Israel was behind his decline.

In July, a Swiss institute said it had discovered high levels of the radioactive element polonium-210 on Arafat’s clothing, which was supplied by his widow. 

However, the Institut de Radiophysique in Lausanne said that symptoms described in Arafat's medical reports were not consistent with polonium-210 and conclusions could not be drawn as to whether he had been poisoned. 

Ties between the United States and Israel showed new signs of strain, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the U.S. for not taking a harder line on Iran. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

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In 2006, a former Russian spy living in London, England, Alexander Litvinenko, was found by British authorities to have died after receiving a "major dose" of polonium-210.

In August, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said he hoped the French inquiry would reveal more on the circumstances of Arafat's death, saying “this does not pertain to us” and “the complaint lodged by Suha Arafat … does not address Israel or anyone in particular.”

NBC's Lawahez Jabari, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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