Anger and violence erupt across the Muslim world

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The Independent Online
THE Muslim world was convulsed with anger yesterday as it emerged that some of the victims of the Hebron massacre were shot dead by Israeli soldiers who opened fire inside the mosque after a Jewish settler had shot dead dozens of worshippers. Israeli state television cited initial findings from an army investigation.

The report confirmed many eyewitness accounts which described how, in the mayhem that followed the initial attack, soldiers, present to keep guard, had shot people as they tried to escape. It also confirmed claims that worshippers were trampled to death in the confusion. Israeli efforts to play down the tragedy as the act of a single lunatic will be undermined by the report, which will increase pressure for a review of security in the occupied territories.

The death toll from the massacre rose to 58 yesterday - with the probability that more Palestinians would die of their wounds this week.

Riots, street demonstrations and threats of vengeance swept the Islamic nations of Asia and Africa, with the United States singled out for blame - and revenge - as Israel's principal ally and sponsor.

In the occupied territories, three more Palestinians were killed yesterday, and more than 50 were injured, as Israel poured in extra forces and imposed curfews in several areas. Ominously for the government, Arab anger spread inside Israel itself, with unprecedented violence between Jews and Arabs in Jaffa, Nazareth and Haifa.

Jaffa, normally a quiet suburb of Tel Aviv with a large Israeli Arab population, was described as a 'war zone' last night. Jews were advised to steer clear of the area where Arab residents were smashing windows and hurling rocks.

Such disturbances among the normally docile Israeli- Arab community placed the government even more firmly on the defensive last night. More than one million Arabs live as Israeli citizens inside the green line, constituting one fifth of Israel's population. Although Israeli Arabs did not join the intifada, many are devout and have been increasingly restive in recent months.

On the diplomatic front, a sense of crisis was building up as the Palestine Liberation Organisation toughened its demands for resumption of the negotiations to secure self-rule. Yasser Arafat, the PLO chairman, called for an emergency meeting of peace delegates in Tunis ahead of the resumption of negotiations in Washington.

Meanwhile, the political leadership in Jerusalem appeared determined to sit out the storm which has followed the Hebron slaughter. The government did not wish to be bounced into making concessions at the negotiating table.

Thirty-six hours later, ministers had failed to come up with any positive proposals on how to prevent such a disaster happening again, while settler leaders in Hebron showed no public remorse for the killings.

The government rejected demands from the PLO to disarm Jewish settlers before letting talks begin immediately on the possibility of uprooting settlements to pave the way for Palestinian rule.

Shimon Peres, the Israeli foreign minister, also rejected calls for an international presence in the occupied territories to ensure Palestinian security. 'No. Under no circumstances. No,' he said yesterday.

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Jordan and Iran declared days of national mourning while several Palestinian leaders suggested that Mr Arafat could face assassination from his own people.

Ten of the Palestinian groups opposed to the peace agreement appealed in Damascus for more attacks on Israeli soldiers and settlers in the occupied territories while Mr Arafat's senior adviser in Tunis, Jibril Rajab, called the bloodbath 'the last nail in the coffin of the PLO-Israel accord'.

The Arab press carried pages of explicit photographs of the carnage, many of them balancing pictures of blood- drenched corpses with photographs of the Israeli soldiers firing into crowds of protesters.

In the huge camp of Ein el Helwe outside Sidon, thousands of Palestinians screamed 'traitor Arafat', a sentiment echoed by the PLO leader's former commander in the city who said that Mr Arafat had only one option now: 'To put a bullet in his own brain.' The governments of Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia condemned the killings, while there were protests in Jordan and Egypt.

(Photograph omitted)