Israel to set up independent inquiry into Temple Mount killings

October 11, 1990|By Robert Ruby | Robert Ruby,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

JERUSALEM -- Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir agreed yesterday to appoint an independent inquiry into the violence on the Temple Mount even as doubts emerged about the government's allegation that Palestinians had planned the eruption.

Fresh violence broke out yesterday. Israeli troops shot and wounded 17 Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip and West Bank during protests against Monday's deaths, according to Palestinian sources. Incidents also were reported in Israel itself.

Meanwhile, Israel's government braced for condemnation by the United Nations Security Council over its handling of the rioting Monday, when police killed 19 Palestinians and wounded about 140.

In setting up the independent panel, Mr. Shamir stopped an investigation by police after complaints that the police should not be investigating themselves.

His spokesman, Yossi Ahimeir, said the investigation would be headed by Zvi Zamir, a reserve major general who was head of the Mossad intelligence agency from 1968 to 1974. The other members will be Yaacov Neeman, a prominent attorney, and Chaim Kubersky, a former director of the Interior Ministry.

Mr. Ahimeir said the panel could make "every recommendation TTC they see fit, and the prime minister will decide what to do with it."

Israeli radio reported that the panel would not have the power to subpoena witnesses and said its recommendations would not be binding.

Newspapers and a human rights organization reported finding evidence undermining the government's claims that Palestinians planned the riot and that Israeli police responded properly.

Instead, they reported, the violence began spontaneously, and the high casualties were not part of a Palestinian plot to capture world attention but a byproduct of poor police tactics.

Jews worshiping at the Western Wall were pelted with stones by Palestinians standing above them on the Temple Mount, known to Moslems as the Haram es-Sharif. After first using tear gas, police fired live ammunition at the Palestinians.

"It's unclear how anything started and at exactly what time," said Nana Yashuvi of B'tselem, an Israeli human rights organization that has interviewed several dozen Palestinians who were there. "What we are most sure of is that the security forces were not prepared. When the clashes started, they panicked."

Ze'ev Schiff, defense correspondent for the independent daily Ha'aretz, reported that security sources disputed the government's claim that Palestinians had brought stones with them or stockpiled them.

According to the newspaper, Palestinians began throwing stones only after mosques in the nearby village of Silwan began broadcasting from loudspeakers that a group of Jewish extremists had arrived there.

"The calls were heard on the Temple Mount, and that's when people started throwing stones at the Jews," the paper reported. Palestinians maintained that police fired tear gas even before stones were thrown.

The Jews who arrived in Silwan were members of the Temple Mount Faithful, an ultranationalist group whose goal is to wrest control of the Temple Mount away from Moslem authorities. Police had banned the march and say they had assured clerics on the Temple Mount that members of the group would be prevented from approaching it.

Faisal al-Husseini, the senior Arab leader in the occupied West Bank, who was arrested on suspicion of inciting the violence, was ordered jailed for 10 more days by a Jerusalem court yesterday.

The conservative daily Maariv, meanwhile, quoted investigators as saying that Mr. Husseini had gone to the Temple Mount not to incite violence but in hopes of political gains from what he thought would be a demonstration there.

Maariv also said some policemen apparently panicked over rumors that colleagues were trapped in a burning police station.

"The opening of fire was not done in planned fashion or by command, but rather independently based on decisions by isolated policemen or a small force when they felt their lives were endangered," it said.

Analysts say the clash has been a diplomatic disaster for Israel and has forced Washington to choose between its alliance with Israel and the coalition formed with Arab states in opposition to Iraq.

"It's the equivalent of a major military defeat for Israel," said Gerald Steinberg of Bar Ilan University in Tel Aviv. "It made it easy to make the comparison between Israel and Saddam Hussein [of Iraq]."

The analysts say the government is resigned to the United States' supporting a Security Council resolution condemning Israel and to the United Nations' sending an observer mission.

"You can't divorce it from the events in the [Persian] Gulf," said Dore Gold, a political scientist at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv. "I think it reflects a certain erosion that exists in the Israeli-American relationship."

Police meanwhile reopened the Temple Mount to Moslem worshipers and prepared for thousands of Jews to arrive today at the Western Wall to celebrate a holiday.

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