58 Arabs slain in Israel MASSACRE IN HEBRON

February 26, 1994|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun M. K. Guzda in Jerusalem contributed to this article.

HEBRON, Israeli-Occupied West Bank -- The death toll from a massacre of Muslim worshipers here and its echoes of violence elsewhere yesterday rose to 58, the largest such bloodletting since Israel captured the West Bank in 1967.

Israel said a lone Jewish settler -- a physician who immigrated from New York more than a decade ago -- opened fire with an automatic weapon in the Tomb of the Patriarchs, cutting down Arabs at their prayers.

Some eyewitnesses asserted more than one gunman was involved.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin called it "a loathsome" and "crazed action." He took the extraordinary step of calling Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, to apologize.

Israeli sources last night said 53 were killed in Hebron, most of them inside the mosque at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, which is shared by Jews and Muslims. Included in the death toll were people killed in clashes with Israeli soldiers in Hebron after the massacre, Palestinian sources said.

At least five more Palestinians were killed elsewhere when Arabs poured into the streets in anger throughout the West Bank and Gaza, confronting Israeli soldiers. More than 100 Palestinians were injured.

One Israeli, 74-year old Moris Eisenstat, was killed -- attacked with an ax near the West Bank village of Kfar Saba.

Authorities clamped curfews on the Gaza Strip and on Hebron, and for the first time they extended the curfew to Jewish settlers.

Israeli leaders expressed fears that Arab anger would further jeopardize the already-lagging peace process. President Clinton, sharing those fears, summoned Israeli and Palestinian leaders to Washington for an all-out attempt to complete negotiations on their agreement for Israeli withdrawal from areas of the West Bank and Gaza.

In Tunis, Tunisia, Mr. Arafat said the killings show: "We are in need of an international protection for our civilians, our people. What happened today in the mosque is a real tragedy that will backfire on the whole peace process."

Officials identified the gunman as Baruch Goldstein, 42, a physician who lived with his wife and four children in Kiryat Arba, a community of zealous Jewish settlers outside Hebron. He was identified as a follower of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane and his Kach movement that espouses racist views.

Beaten to death

After some uncertainty yesterday, Israeli authorities said Goldstein was beaten to death, apparently by furious Muslims after he ran out of ammunition.

Hebron settlers defended him, blaming instead the government's policies toward Palestinians.

"Who is to blame? In our opinion, the prime minister, the foreign minister, and his deputy must answer to what has happened today in Hebron," said Rabbi Moshe Levinger the founder of the Jewish settlement here who once spent time in prison for killing an Arab.

Other settlers in Kiryat Arba spoke anonymously on Israel Television, and called Goldstein's act "a great mitzva" (good deed) and called for revenge to "kill all the Arabs."

Arab reaction

Arab reaction came in spontaneous demonstrations in dozens of towns,and lengthy confrontations with the Israeli military at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the main Muslim shrine in Jerusalem.

Thousands of worshipers came to Al-Aqsa for Friday prayers during this Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and at least six were reportedly injured.

Questions persisted about precisely what happened in the mosque yesterday because of conflicting eyewitness accounts. Goldstein apparently mailed a farewell letter to his family before going to the mosque yesterday morning.

He was dressed in an olive-green army uniform and armed with an Israeli Galil automatic weapon. He was a major in the Israeli army reserves, in which almost all Israeli men serve.

His military dress may have allowed him to enter the mosque unnoticed. Jews are not supposed to enter the mosque during Muslim Friday prayers, but a contingent of soldiers guards the place.

10 to 20 guards

Several eyewitnesses said there were between 10 and 20 army soldiers in the mosque as usual. But a spokesman for the military said no soldiers were inside, in respect for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Goldstein opened fire about 5:30 a.m. as the worshipers were beginning their early morning ritual.

Most witnesses said they heard the explosions of at least two grenades, or what could have been "sound bombs" -- which make loud noise but do not contain shrapnel. The shooting followed.

According to Israeli authorities, Goldstein acted alone. But some witnesses said gunfire came from different points of the room.

Even more frequent were witnesses' claims that "soldiers" -- or someone dressed in a military uniform -- handed Goldstein new clips of bullets as he exhausted his ammunition. "He was a tall guy, with a beard. But I saw another one at his back, giving him ammunition," said Mohammed Rabiya al-Jabbari, 55, who was wounded. "When he finished one set of bullets, a soldier gave him another."

"There was a second man there. First one was shooting, and then the second," said Sharif Zahideh, 27.

"I'm sure there was more than one gun," said Ibrahim Ahbdeen,42.

Several witnesses said Goldstein was led away alive by soldiers, but authorities said last night that he had been beaten to death at the mosque.

After the shooting, hysterical relatives converged on Hebron's two Arab hospitals seeking news of loved ones, only to be confronted by Israeli soldiers, who fired into the crowds and killed several others, according to Palestinian accounts.

The shooting provoked quick reactions among Israeli politicians. Some called for the removal of Jewish settlers from the Arab city of Hebron, and others called for disarming the settlers.

But after a hasty Cabinet meeting, the government said the only steps it would take immediately was the curfew in Hebron and an offer to compensate the families of victims of the massacre.

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