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Israeli inquiry finds Hebron killer acted alone

ONE MAN, and one man alone, was responsible for the Hebron massacre, the Israeli Commission of Inquiry found yesterday.

He was Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish settler, a doctor and a reserve Israeli army officer who died at the hands of Arabs trying to halt his slaughter. He planned his murders in secret and alone, and his actions could not have been prevented or foreseen, said the report. The report described the slaughter, in which 29 Muslim worshippers were gunned down at prayer by Goldstein on 25 February, as 'one of the harshest expressions of the Jewish-Arab conflict.'

The five-member inquiry team calls no military figures to account for security failures which it acknowledges preceded the massacre. Although the report says guns must be banned from the shrine, no blame is attributed for the policy before the massacre of allowing fanatical armed Jewish settlers to enter the building at will. No individuals are blamed for what the report calls 'unclear' open-fire regulations, which led soldiers on guard to believe they could never shoot a Jew even if he were slaughtering worshippers.

The report calls no politician to account. The policy of allowing anti-Arab racist groups such as Kach and Kahane to establish strongholds in an Arab town is not questioned, although both groups were banned after the massacre. And the politicians' failure to heed the many warnings of a pending bloodbath are brushed over. The report mentions an incident in 1991 when Goldstein was accused of defiling Koranic texts, saying the case was closed due to 'lack of evidence'. It also mentions acid- throwing attacks on mosque carpets in October last year and in January. Following these attacks the Awqaf, the Islamic authority, protested to Yitzhak Rabin, the Prime Minister, naming a 'Baruch' as responsible. But the report says no culprit was ever identified. 'We do not believe that anyone can be blamed for not having foreseen the fact that a Jew would plan and carry out a massacre of Muslims,' the report says.

In its recommendations the report takes a limited view of its remit, focusing solely on improving security arrangements in the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Shlomo Gazitt, a reserve general and a former head of military intelligence, said yesterday the 'writing was on the wall' from the moment settlers were allowed to enter Hebron in 1968. However, he added that the remit of the inquiry was to 'address the symptoms not the disease . . . The disease is the Arab- Israeli conflict.'

The report finds that the main lesson to be learned is that there should be 'total separation' in the mosque to prevent friction between Jewish and Muslim worshippers. The inquiry team makes no attempt to address the wider, chronic problem of friction in Hebron itself, where extremist settlers live in the midst of a large Arab population and where hatred remains as intense today as it was before the massacre.

The principal recommendations of the report are:

separation of Jews and Muslims inside the building. The Herodian shrine, which allegedly houses the tombs of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, contains both a synagogue and a mosque, which is essentially the cause of the friction. Either worshippers should pray at different times, or the building should be divided to keep Jews and Muslims apart.

a tomb guard should be set up. A special unit would be trained to deal with the 'sensitive' nature of the work, with power to make arrests

a ban on all weapons inside the building, except for security forces

clear open-fire regulations

improved arrangements for investigating attacks

better intelligence about likely violent attacks, whether by Jews or Arabs.

The findings of the report were immediately attacked by the Palestine Liberation Organisation, and by dove-ish Israelis.