'I heard . . . the sound of shooting' MASSACRE IN HEBRON Doug Struck

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

HEBRON, ISRAELI-OCCUPIED WEST BANK — *TC HEBRON, Israeli-Occupied West Bank -- Their foreheads had just touched the carpets as a thread of sun reached the mosque, each worshiper in silent ritual swearing thrice "Glory to my Lord the Most High."

Then the slaughter began.

"I heard two explosions, and then the sound of shooting," said Sharif Zahideh, 27.

His chest was wrapped in gauze and his bed at the Hebron hospital splotched and red. "The man next to me was killed. Part of his brain came all over my face."

"This man started shooting the lamps," added Natshi Shaban, a friend at his bedside.

Mr. Shaban's 48-year-old brother was killed.

"Then he began shooting people. He was shooting with an Uzi. We were on the floor, and we could not move."

Yesterday the pre-dawn prayers at the Hebron mosque took on the stain of violence that writes so much of the history of this region. A Jewish settler armed with bullets and rage opened the day with a massacre, igniting more violence.

By nightfall, more than 50 had died.

"Palestinians are the ones seen as terrorists by the outside world," said Mahmoud Sweti, 44, his left arm punctured with slugs. "Who is the terrorist now?"

Ambulances streamed into and out of Hebron all day, their blue lights feeble in the brilliant sun.

The dead were claimed and buried even before they were cold, a practice learned by the Palestinians to assure the deceased some final dignity free from the wraps of Israeli bureaucracy.

Even as wailing families whisked dead loved ones away, new victims were filling the unchanged beds as clashes spread throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

At the Al-Ahli Hospital here in Hebron, Dr. Wisam Muheaseb shook his head in disbelief.

"Never. Never have I see anything like this," he said.

Hebron is a hard city of hatreds, a dismal town robbed of warmth by the frequent confrontations between right-wing Jewish settlers and embittered Arabs. Its streets are smudged from the fires of burning tires, its storefronts painted over with political slogans from both sides.

At the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a looming building of rough stone blocks white with age, Jews and Arabs shoulder past each other suspiciously as each honors the presumed burial place of the prophet Abraham with their prayers.

Yesterday's salat as-subah, the Muslim's morning prayers, were unusually crowded to mark the midpoint of the Ramadan celebration.

About 600 persons were there.

In a departure from the norm, the Israeli soldiers who guard the entrance directed women to a side room to pray, according to those there.

Soon into the prayer, when the worshipers bent their foreheads to the floor in supplication, the sharp sound of gunfire interrupted the petitions to Allah.

"We thought it was coming from the outside, so we kept praying," said Ibrahim Ahbdeen, 42, a father of six. Then he saw a man dressed in a military uniform "spraying the men with bullets from his automatic gun. He was moving his gun from right to left, left to right, as if it were water instead of bullets."

The gunman had approached the kneeling crowd from behind. He dealt out the carnage systematically, shooting first the closest row of worshipers and working to the next, according to witnesses.

The strobe of chaos left each with different images:

Some say there were two gunmen.

Some say more.

Numerous survivors swear they saw Israeli soldiers handing the killer new ammunition clips.

Some say the shooting lasted two minutes; others say 20.

A father is slain

"I was next to my father," said Sari Salman Jabari, an 8-year-old with dark hair, dark eyes and a bullet wound in his belly. He lay listlessly, with spindly twig-like arms, in a pediatric bed in Makassad Hospital in Jerusalem, where he was brought after the incident.

He saw his father hit in the abdomen by a bullet, he said. He ran toward a wall and huddled there in fear. Sari watched another man lift his father and carry him from the fray.

His father was dead.

Some worshipers clung to the floor, but they could not escape the hail of bullets.

Others rushed to exits, only to find their way barred by locked doors and Israeli soldiers, perhaps equally confused by the melee.

"When people started to go out of the mosque, the soldiers closed the doors and they used fire extinguishers on the people to drive them back," said a woman who was inside, but would not give her name.

"The soldiers would not allow us to go out," said Mohammed Abu-Meza, 43, who was shot in the foot. "Nobody helped us. They told us to go back into the mosque. We finally broke open the gates."

"That is not at all true," said Army Lt. Col. Yehuda Weinraub, hours later at the foot of the mosque. As word of the tragedy spread, Palestinian boys hurled stones and rocks at the soldiers. Colonel Weinraub stood with bandages crossed around this head, hiding a nasty red splotch that was caused by a stone.

"The Army offered medical assistance and the use of helicopters immediately," he said.

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