The pilots sent a letter to the Israeli air force commander declaring their refusal to carry out duties, which include political assassinations of Hamas activists, in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“We, veteran pilots and active pilots alike…are opposed to carrying out illegal and immoral attacks, of the type carried out by Israel in the territories,” one of the pilot’s said on Wednesday on Israeli television.

“We…refuse to take part in air force attacks in civilian population centres,” said another pilot.

The pilots are believed to be regulars and reservists. They recently submitted a petition opposing the missions to air force head General Dan Haloutz, reported Israeli radio.

The petition is thought to be the first signed by air force personnel.

Conscientious objectors punishable

Haloutz tried to play down the dissent, saying the pilots were only a couple of dozen among thousands.

Israeli army chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon said the pilots, who include senior reserve officers, could be punished for what he described as their “illegitimate” and “forbidden” statement.

“We…refuse to take part in air force attacks in civilian population centres” 

One of the Israeli pilots who are against missions in the occupied territories

Israel has declared that all Hamas activists are targets, killing 12 members of the resistance group in air strikes since a Palestinian detonated a bomb on a bus in mainly Jewish west Jerusalem, killing some 23 people.

Several civilians have also been killed during Israel’s track-and-kill operations, condemned by the international community.

In January last year, 52 army reserve officers and soldiers said they were refusing to serve in the West Bank and Gaza.

Israeli servicemen can be jailed for refusing to carry out orders.