In the latest incident, 15 members of the Israeli army's top commando unit have written to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon refusing to carry out missions in the Palestinian territories. 

According to Israeli media reports on Sunday, 15 reservists from the elite Sayeret Matkal unit, said they would no longer participate in the "rule of oppression" and the defence of Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories.

The Sayeret Matkal, or General Staff Reconnaissance Unit, is Israel's most elite commando unit and has often been compared to the US military's Delta Force or the British army's SAS.

"We will no longer give our lives to the rule of oppression in the territories and to the denial of human rights to millions of Palestinians and we will no longer serve as a defensive shield for the settlements," private television quoted the letter as saying.

Reached the boundary

"We will no longer corrupt the stamp of humanity in us through carrying out the missions of an occupation army... in the past, we fought for a justified cause (but today), we have reached the boundary of oppressing another people," it added.

"We will no longer cross this boundary."

We will no longer corrupt the stamp of humanity in us through carrying out the missions of an occupation army ... in the past, we fought for a justified cause (but today), we have reached the boundary of oppressing another people

Since the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising in September 2000, Sayeret Matkal has spearheaded Israel's campaign to round up resistance fighters, tracking down and arresting senior wanted Palestinians, rounding up "terror units" and searching for weapons caches.

The letter was likely to send shockwaves through the defence establishment due to the seniority of the unit, best known for its spectacular rescue of 106 passengers from a hijacked plane at Uganda's Entebbe Airport in 1976.

Army radio said the letter would be presented to Sharon's office later on Sunday.

"Refusenik" movement

The latest refusal to serve comes three months after 27 airforce pilots sent a petition to airforce head General Dan Halutz outlining their refusal to undertake missions in the Palestinian territories.

The "refusenik" movement swung into the spotlight in January 2002, when 52 reserve officers and soldiers signed a letter saying they would not serve in the Palestinian territories.