Rabin to be quizzed over Hebron warning: Israeli leader alleged to have ignored telegram from Islamic authorities about earlier attack by Baruch Goldstein

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The Independent Online
THE Commission of Inquiry into the Hebron massacre is expected to call Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, to testify amid growing accusations that Mr Rabin and his most senior advisers failed to act on warnings of the dangers posed by Hebron settlers.

Concern is growing in government circles that Mr Rabin could be seriously tainted by the inquiry's findings. Israeli legal experts say that it is within the inquiry's power to call for Mr Rabin's resignation, should the testimony prove that he personally failed to heed warnings of settler violence.

Tomorrow, evidence will be presented by Lieutenant-General Ehud Barak, the Chief of Staff. Advisers to Mr Rabin said yesterday they expect him to take the stand soon after. The most damaging allegation is that he and his security chiefs failed to act on warnings from Islamic authorities about the violence of settlers. In particular, no action was taken after the Waqf - the body responsible for Islamic holy places - sent a telegram to the Prime Minister's office reporting that a settler had attacked Muslims in the mosque and poured acid on the carpets in October. The telegram named the settler as 'Baruch', and Islamic officials say all witnesses identified him as Baruch Goldstein (who, last month, was the perpetrator of the massacre).

Amid the controversy over the telegram, state-controlled Israel Radio ran a report on Sunday stating that Mr Rabin convened a meeting at the Defence Ministry of security chiefs on 22 October, when the acid attack in the mosque was discussed. Quoting military sources, the report said that Mr Rabin told those present that the acid attack was 'alarming' and called for a report from the security services. A week later, a further meeting was held, when Mr Rabin was told that action had been taken to improve security.

As well as facing questions about prior warnings, Mr Rabin is likely to be asked by the inquiry whether he authorised the order which prevented soldiers shooting at settlers. Military guards at the mosque have told the inquiry of the existence of the order, but the army has not clarified how it was issued.

Yesterday a senior Israeli officer told the inquiry he fully supported the policy of arming Jews who enter the Tomb of the Patriarchs. The policy had kept Jews safe from Arab attack 'because the weapons themselves were a deterrent,' said Brigadier-General Moshe Yaalon.

Mr Rabin is Defence Minister as well as Prime Minister. As such he holds overall responsibility for security in the occupied territories.

In 1983 the Kahan Commission, set up to examine the Sabra and Chatila massacre in Lebanon, brought about the resignation of Ariel Sharon as Israel's defence minister. Although direct responsibility for the massacre lay with Lebanon's Phalange forces, said the commission, Mr Sharon failed to take 'appropriate measures to limit the danger'.

Moshe Negby, an Israeli legal expert and eminent journalist, said yesterday: 'According to the precedent set by the Sabra and Chatila inquiry, if the commission finds Mr Rabin could foresee the possibility of a massacre and did not take all reasonable steps to prevent it, he can be held responsible. As a result the commission can recommend his resignation as Defence Minister or Prime Minister or both.'

Signs emerged at Sunday's cabinet meeting that Mr Rabin was anxious at the line the inquiry was taking, when he spoke angrily about the damage it was causing to the army and to Israel's image abroad. It is understood that the commission has asked the Prime Minister's office to produce the telegram about Goldstein sent by the Waqf in October, but it has not been found.

Gadi Zohar, head of the military government, the so-called 'civil administration' in the occupied territories, told the inquiry late yesterday that Mr Rabin had warned of the dangers presented by settlers at meetings of military chiefs last year.