The story of an atrocity committed in Lebanon by an Israeli Army officer and two enlisted men has led to an accusation that Israel's military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Rafael Eitan, publicly lied about the incident.

Details of the torture and murder of four Lebanese peasants during the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon last year were disclosed in July by Uri Avnery, a leftist member of the Israeli Knesset (parliament). The disclosure caused Israeli military censors yesterday to abandon a year-long effort to suppress news of the atrocity.

Avnery said he publicized the case to prevent the recurrence of similar atrocities in the future.

"It was a Nazi-like crime," he said.

Avnery said Lt. Daniel Pinto, 20, tortured and then strangled to death four Lebanese peasants, including a 16-year-old boy, in the village of Ein Baal after Israel's March 1978 invasion of south Lebanon, Avnery's report identified Pinto's accomplices as corporals Elazar and Ben-Hamo.

According to Avnery's report, the three Israelis dumped the bodies into a nearby well and swore to keep the incident secret.

However, the story reached Israeli officials several weeks later after Pinto recounted the killings to a fellow officer.

A court-martial a year ago convicted Pinto of the murders and sentenced him to 12 years in prison, but a military appeals court reduced his term to eight years.

Eitan later ordered the sentence reduced to two years, prompting leftist deputies to raise the matter in the Knesset.

Avnery accused Eitan of lying in a public interview on the incident, knowing that censorship laws would prohibit publication of any other version.

"There is absolutely no doubt, I am sorry to say, that the chief of staff lied deliberately, knowing that every word he was pronouncing was a total lie," Avnery said.