Israeli probe of violence at holy site blames Arabs

October 27, 1990|By Robert Ruby | Robert Ruby,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

JERUSALEM -- A government commission investigating the clash on the Temple Mount criticized yesterday the actions of Israeli police but blamed the violence that led to more than a dozen deaths entirely on the words and actions of Palestinians.

In a report of its findings, the three-member commission said police had been warned by intelligence services about the possibility of disturbances on the Temple Mount but prepared in a "routine and even mistaken" way. In the clash Oct. 8, police shot and killed at least 17 Palestinians and wounded more than 50.

For part of the time police were firing, the commission said, there pTC was "indiscriminate use of live ammunition." It said high-ranking officers, including the Jerusalem police commander, erred by failing to come to the area to supervise their men.

But the commission placed responsibility for the clash on the Palestinians. Moslem prayer leaders used loudspeakers to make violent and threatening calls" and thereby encouraged people to attack police, it concluded.

"This was a serious criminal offense committed by masses who were incited by preachers on loudspeakers, and this is what led to the tragic chain of events," it said.

No single incident in recent years has brought Israel as much criticism or so estranged the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir from the United States. It also has ignited a deadly cycle of attacks and counterattacks in the streets between Palestinians and Israelis.

Mr. Shamir's government has insisted that the violence on the Temple Mount was a provocation designed in advance by Palestinians to recapture attention from the crisis between Iraq and the United States and its Arab allies. The investigating commission, whose members were appointed by Mr. Shamir, makes no mention of evidence that Palestinians planned the clash.

RF Israel has refused to accept a United Nations team to investigate

the clash, saying that two resolutions passed unanimously by the U.N. Security Council were one-sided against Israel and challenged its sovereignty over Jerusalem.

Members of the government greeted the report as a thorough investigation, while Palestinians and members of the Israeli left belittled it as unbalanced and incomplete.

"This is a one-sided committee that expresses only the Israeli side," Radwan Abu Ayash, head of an Arab journalists group, said on army radio. "The committee whose conclusions should have been accepted was the commission recommended by the U.N. Security Council."

Avi Pazner, media adviser to Mr. Shamir, said the commission's findings largely cleared police. "All in all, I think the police did a good job," he said. "It was a tragic loss of life caused by Arab extremists."

The violence took place at sites venerated by Moslems and Jews, and the ferocity of the clash was caused in part by each group's fear that its holy sites were under attack. The area, known to Moslems as Haram es-Sharif or "noble enclosure," contains the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques.

Moslem prayer leaders had called on people to come that day to counter a march planned by a small extremist Jewish group, the Temple Mount Faithful, a march the courts prohibited several days in advance.

The commission said the seed of the clash was the very presence of large numbers of Moslems. "Thousands of Moslems who had been summoned by religious leaders and others, not for purposes of prayer, to a place intended for prayer only, exceeded the bounds set for the use of a holy place," it said.

It said the violence began after prayer leaders used loudspeakers to broadcast inflammatory slogans, including "slaughter the Jews." A crowd of 2,000 to 3,000 youths charged the 44 police there and began throwing stones and other objects at short range, it said.

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets but were forced to retreat and leave the Temple Mount, it said. At the same time thousands of Jewish worshipers were evacuated from the plaza in front of the Western Wall, a holy site abutting the Temple Mount.

In the panel's account, stones were thrown onto the plaza only after police withdrew, a finding that contradicts the government's initial claim that the incident began with the stoning of Jewish worshipers.

At the same time, hundreds of youths were attacking a police outpost on the Temple Mount, the commission said. A larger force of police charged back into the area, convinced that two comrades in the outpost were in danger and that the weapons stored there could fall into the hands of Palestinians.

The commission agreed with the finding of independent human rights groups that by the time the larger force entered the area, the two police officers in the outpost had found their own way to safety.

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