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The London Times: 

"About 40 Israeli volunteers fight on the side of Serbs"

from Christopher Walker, Jerusalem

About 40 Israeli volunteers have been fighting alongside the Serbs as a gesture of gratitude for Serb support for Yugoslav Jews against the Nazis in the Second World War.

The existence of the Israeli fighters - they do not like the term mercenaries - was revealed by Ron Ben Yishai, an Israeli war correspondent who was injured by Kosovo Liberation Army sniper fire this week while reporting from the province for the Tel Aviv daily Yediot Aharonot.

The paper said that all the Israeli fighters had emigrated to the Jewish state from the former Soviet Union and were part of a volunteer unit, the majority of whose members were Russians.

Mr Ben Yishai quoted one of the Israeli volunteers, named only as Valery, who recently returned home after fighting in Kosovo for a month, as saying: "We decided to fight alongside the Serbs as a token of our gratitude for the assistance the Serbs extended to the Jews of Yugoslavia who were persecuted by the Nazis in World War Two."

The Israeli fighter said that another reason that he had joined up was "identification with the Christian Slavs' fight against the Muslims trying to take over Europe".

Diplomatic observers noted that, at an earlier stage of the Yugoslav crisis, many Islamic volunteers - including former members of the Afghan Mujahidin rebels who had fought against the Soviet forces - fought alongside the Bosnian Muslims.