Mosque killer had help, Palestinian witnesses say

March 23, 1994|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

JERUSALEM -- Palestinian witnesses told an Israeli commission yesterday that they believed shots came from more than one gunman during the massacre at a Hebron mosque.

The accounts, which survivors had given before to journalists, now present the inquiry with eyewitness recollections that contradict the army's version of the shooting Feb. 25.

"When he changed clips, there were shots from the main door," said one of the witnesses, Mohammed Musbah al-Jabari. "There was more than one source of fire."

The army contends that only Dr. Baruch Goldstein fired at worshipers as they prayed in the mosque in the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

As the commission continued hearing testimony, turmoil also continued in the occupied territories:

* In Hebron, a pregnant Arab woman was killed, according to Palestinian accounts, and the Israeli army bombarded several houses with rockets in a daylong siege. The army was said to be seeking wanted persons.

* In Nablus, soldiers shot a 6-month-old baby and four other Palestinians during clashes with stone-throwers, according to Israel Radio and Palestinian sources.

* Near Tulkarm, Israeli soldiers handcuffed two United Nations observers and dragged them away from witnessing a confrontation in a refugee camp, according to the U.N. officials.

* In Beit Jala, Palestinian leaders from Hebron circumvented army roadblocks to present their protests against the continuing curfew of Hebron. A shouting match within the group illustrated the slipping popularity of those who still want a peace agreement with Israel.

The army refused to comment on the reports.

The testimony of Palestinians before the Israeli fact-finding commission marked a change from last week's refusal of Arabs to cooperate with the board.

Members of the Islamic Council, which runs the mosque, and the Muslim guards present on the day of the massacre still have declined to appear.

"The committee is biased to Israel. It will be one-sided and will not be trusted by the world," said Abdul Rahman Natshe, a Hebron member of the Islamic Council, which also is preparing a report on the shooting.

But the Palestine Liberation Organization approved the appearance yesterday of 12 witnesses to the massacre in which at least 29 Muslims were killed.

Salah Ayish al-Jabari said he saw another settler pointing a gun at Muslim worshipers as Goldstein paused to change clips. "I didn't see Goldstein, but I saw a settler with a black beard," he said.

Several of the witnesses swore that gunfire came from different directions. Five said they distinctly heard the sound of small bombs or grenades, though the army has said no evidence of such devices was found.

Another witness said soldiers stopped him from trying to evacuate the wounded from the mosque.

"Soldiers outside stopped us. They pointed their guns at us," said Arafat Fahmi al-Karaki. "They told us to go away. They didn't want to treat people and give medical help."

Commission members seemed perplexed by the inconsistencies in the various accounts. And they questioned the witnesses about why their versions were not contained in reports from Israeli police investigators.

As the testimony continued in a hearing room of the Israel Supreme Court, the clashes in the occupied territories that resumed in strength after the massacre also continued.

In Nablus, police fired at Palestinians throwing stones, and wounded five, according to Israel Radio. One of those was a 6-month-old baby girl being carried by her mother outside a hospital.

Palestinian sources said the baby, named Halud (Eternity), was shot in the chest and remained in serious condition.

In Hebron, Palestinian sources said widespread clashes erupted throughout the day. A 32-year-old pregnant woman, Hundak Zahade, was shot and killed in her home when she was struck by a bullet while watching the clashes through a window.

The army had surrounded several houses in Hebron and were bombarding them with rockets late last night.

Hebron town leaders said the siege began early yesterday morning. Mustafa Abd el-Nabi Natshe, the former mayor of Nablus, said he had gone at the request of the army to four houses surrounded by troops, and found no one inside.

But the army apparently believed that Palestinians on Israel's wanted list remained there. Last night they fired into the houses.

Hebron remains under curfew, but town leaders circumvented Israeli roadblocks to protest the curfew at a news conference in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem.

"The occupying authorities have persecuted the victim by forcing collective punishments on the citizens of Hebron," said Mr. Natshe, the former mayor.

"The ongoing curfew . . . increased the suffering of Palestinians and destroyed their economic, educational, social, health and psychological aspects of life."

But their protest demonstrated the divisions within the Palestinians, when other Hebron residents disrupted the meeting.

They objected to the presence of Saeb Erekat, a member of the PLO negotiating committee. They said most residents in Hebron no longer support the peace talks of which Mr. Erekat is a part.

"He is not representative of Hebron," complained Abdul Alim Dana, a college lecturer in Hebron. "The majority of the people are against negotiations with Israel. He represents the other side."

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