Soldiers say Hebron killer was not alone

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BARUCH GOLDSTEIN, the Hebron mass-killer, may not have been acting alone when he slaughtered Muslim worshippers in the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the Israeli inquiry into the massacre heard yesterday.

Soldiers on guard when the massacre happened revealed that shortly after Goldstein entered the mosque, a second armed settler followed him, giving new weight to claims by Palestinian eyewitnesses that more than one killer was involved in the massacre.

Furthermore, in direct contradiction of the official army version of events, the soldiers stated that Goldstein was carrying an M-16 assault rifle. The second settler was carrying a Galil assault rifle.

The army investigation found that all the 110 spent cartridges in the mosque after the massacre had been fired by a Galil rifle. This was confirmed by army ballistics experts, basing their findings on examination of the Galil rifle found in the mosque.

The soldiers' testimony also raised new suspicions that worshippers could have been hit by army gunfire, as many eyewitnesses have claimed. Soldiers who had been standing outside the mosque told the inquiry that in the panic which followed the slaughter they fired at the doorway through which worshippers were fleeing.

They did so, they said, in the mistaken belief that it was an Arab who had opened fire inside. 'We wanted to create a jam at the door. We thought it was an Arab who fired. We were afraid he would come out,' said Sergeant Kobi Yosef.

The sergeant insisted, however, that the shots hit no one. 'If anyone was there, he could have been hit - but no one was there at that moment,' said Sgt Yosef.

Major-General Danny Yatom, the top army commander in the West Bank, earlier testified that soldiers only fired in the air.

On the diplomatic front, efforts to restart the peace process, halted by the massacre, showed no sign of early progress. Yitshak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, arrived back in Jerusalem from Washington and Rome, with no news of a breakthrough.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation continues to insist that it will only return to the negotiating table if Israel first agrees to allow an armed international force into the occupied territories to protect Palestinians. Yesterday two Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip, bringing the number of Palestinians killed since the massacre to 34.

However, to date, Mr Rabin has refused to countenance an armed international force. According to Foreign Ministry officials, the most the government may be prepared to allow is a body of up to 200 monitors operating inside Gaza and Jericho should the transition to self-rule begin. The monitors could hold light arms for self-protection, but would not constitute a force. Britain is among the countries offering to contribute to such a body.