Police curb Arab, Jewish worshipers in Jerusalem

March 05, 1994|By Dan Fesperman and Doug Struck | Dan Fesperman and Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

JERUSALEM -- One week after the massacre at a Hebron mosque, both Muslim and Jew were restricted in their prayers here yesterday, as more than a thousand police kept them apart.

The extra precautions seemed to work as the day of worship passed without incident inside the walls of Jerusalem's Old City.

But violence continued in the occupied territories, as three Palestinians and possibly a fourth, were shot to death, while two Jewish settlers were stabbed, one of them seriously.

In maintaining calm among worshipers in the Old City, authorities placed the heaviest restrictions on Muslims, as is usually the case during times of tension.

Israeli soldiers barred tens of thousands of Muslims from the occupied territories from entering Jerusalem. The city's Muslims entered the grounds of the Temple Mount mosque, one of Islam's holiest sites, only after passing the gun barrels of dozens of border guards and police. Young men had to turn in their identity cards for admittance.

The result was that no more than 25,000 attended prayers, according to police estimates. Without the restrictions, an estimated 150,000 attended the previous Friday.

The day's rarest event was the one-hour closing of the courtyard in front of the Western Wall, colloquially known as the Wailing Wall, one of Judaism's holiest sites. That happened from noon to 1 p.m., the peak hour of prayer for the Muslims who gathered on the opposite side of the 55-foot-high wall in the sprawling Temple Mount complex.

Hundreds of blue-shirted police ringed the stone courtyard, barring all but one Jew who had apparently begun praying before the closure; they did not interrupt him.

"We have the responsibility for the lives of Jews praying" at the wall, National Police Commissioner Rafi Peled explained. "We thought that in the specific hour that was high risk, they will throw stones from the Temple Mount, so it was better to impose closure."

The previous Friday, Palestinians threw thousands of stones from the Temple Mount to the courtyard of the wall, prompting a temporary closure.

The Palestinians were venting their rage over that morning's massacre in a mosque 22 miles away in Hebron.

During a similar rock-throwing incident Oct. 8, 1990, Israeli policemen opened fire on Arabs in the Temple Mount, killing 21.

Pinchas Perkal, a 17-year-old yeshiva student who came to Israel eight months ago from Baltimore, said, "I think Jews should have a right to pray on this side as well as Muslims on that side."

Asked if he thought the massacre by a Jewish settler in Hebron justified the precaution, he replied, "I don't think it was right what he did, but he definitely got the message across. He showed there are Jews against the peace plan, and he showed that Arabs don't have the right to be in those places."

Muslims also complained yesterday.

Hamdi Sinocrot, 21, watched worshipers pray from a high, barred window just outside Temple Mount. He and a friend decided not to go to the mosque because they feared there would be trouble from Israeli soldiers.

"If there were no soldiers inside, then we would have no problem," he said. "But if there is just one soldier inside, then there will be problems."

Any trouble would also mean that the authorities would hold on to his identity card if he'd turned it in at the entrance, he said.

But soldiers and police stayed outside during the worship service.

The imam, or preacher, asked in his sermon why Israeli authorities had ignored a letter in October from Muslim officials warning of dangerous behavior by Dr. Baruch Goldstein, the settler who carried out the Hebron massacre.

"Why has no one responded to our calls when we sent the letter to the prime minister?" the imam asked. "Why has no one heard our cries and our complaints? All the governments are doing is to condemn the massacre, but nothing else is being done. . . . We raise our complaints to God."

But he asked the worshipers to stay calm and preserve the dignity of the Dome of the Rock and all other mosques.

The day of worship passed without incident in the walled Old City.

All was quiet as well at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the ancient building in Hebron housing both a mosque and a synagogue, and the site of the massacre. No worshipers of either religion have been allowed inside since then.

But elsewhere in the occupied territories the violence continued. The Israeli Army said that a Palestinian in the Gaza Strip was shot dead by a settler as the Palestinian attacked two settlers with a knife, wounding one of them seriously.

A second Palestinian was shot dead in Gaza City in a clash with soldiers. Palestinian sources said two more Palestinians were killed in a clash at a refugee camp near Nablus, north of Jerusalem, although the army confirmed only one fatality from that incident.

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