JERUSALEM -- Soldiers from two elite units said they killed at least nine Palestinian policemen in random shooting attacks ordered by their commanders to avenge the deaths of six soldiers in a 2002 West Bank attack, an Israeli newspaper has reported.
The Maariv daily on Friday cited testimony by three soldiers, who weren't identified.
The Israeli army declined to comment on the allegations that soldiers engaged in cold-blooded killings. The army said in a statement Friday that at the time, it instructed soldiers to hunt down all those involved ''in terror activities, including members of the Palestinian Authority security apparatus."
During more than four years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, the Israeli military has killed dozens of wanted militants in targeted attacks, including missile strikes, that often also killed bystanders.
However, the soldiers' account published in Maariv suggested that the Palestinian policemen killed in the shootings were chosen at random, not on suspicion of involvement in violence against Israel.
Events began Feb. 19, 2002, when six Israeli soldiers, members of a combat engineering unit, were killed by Palestinian gunmen in an attack on a West Bank checkpoint called Ein Arik.
Several hours later, the commander of an elite reconnaissance unit, Yael, told his soldiers that they were being asked to avenge the six combat engineers, a staff sergeant in the Yael unit, who was identified only as D, told Maariv.
Another soldier in the unit, identified as R, said the commander told them they would be targeting a Palestinian police post. ''He said that our mission was to get there and kill them," Maariv quoted the soldier as saying. ''He mentioned the soldiers at Ein Arik. We knew why we were going there."
The two soldiers said their unit attacked a Palestinian post north of the town of Ramallah.
R said that seven or eight men were at the post, drinking coffee, and that only two were in uniform and armed. After soldiers opened fire on the post, the Palestinians scattered, and only three remained in shooting range.
''We began to liquidate them," said R, adding that soldiers pumped one Palestinian policeman full of bullets after he had been fatally hit. The newspaper said at least two Palestinian policemen were killed.
A paratrooper reconnaissance unit, meanwhile, was ordered to attack two Palestinian police posts on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Nablus, soldiers told Maariv. The newspaper quoted one paratrooper as saying the order was to kill everyone at the post his unit targeted.
Seven policemen were killed by Israeli army fire near Nablus that day, Feb. 20, 2002, according to the newspaper.
Maariv also quoted soldiers as saying they had filmed some killings. The army said it had no knowledge of such a video.