From the archive, 26 February 1994: Massacre at the mosque

Originally published in the Guardian on 26 February 1994

Israeli and PLO negotiators are to meet in Washington within days to demonstrate continued commitment to their peace accord, in the wake of yesterday's massacre of more than 40 Palestinians in a mosque in the occupied West Bank town of Hebron.

President Clinton seized the diplomatic initiative, urging both sides to sink their differences and move swiftly to implement their outline agreement on Palestinian self-rule. He said he had invited all the officials involved in the slow-moving negotiation to come to the US capital 'as soon as possible and to stay here in continuous session until their work is completed'.

'They have both agreed to do that,' he added.

The renewed sense of urgency was the only positive feature of an appalling day for Israel and the Palestinians, in which rioting flared across the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

In all at least 55 people were killed and scores wounded. It was the biggest peacetime death toll since the Jewish state was founded in 1948.

The Hebron massacre was the work of a single man, Baruch Goldstein, until yesterday morning a respected doctor in the adjacent Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba.

Goldstein, who belonged to the extreme racist movement Kahane Chai, went to the mosque above the Tomb of the Patriarchs, Hebron's most famous shrine, with a Galil assault rifle.

The shrine is revered by Jews and Muslims, and the sharing arrangement is often marred by acrimony. Yesterday morning, the mosque was crammed with worshippers. Goldstein, who had slipped past guards in army uniform, sprayed them with automatic fire. According to later reports, he also hurled two grenades into the throng.

The mosque became a bloodbath. Among the dead was Goldstein himself, beaten to death by enraged worshippers, according to Israeli police sources. Adnan Abu Sharakh, who was praying at the tomb when the settler opened fire, said worshippers overpowered Goldstein after he had raked four or five clips of ammunition across the kneeling Muslims.

'What I heard later but didn't see is that they sprayed him with a cloud of gas from the fire extinguisher. Then they hit him with it and killed him,' Mr Abu Sharakh told Israeli television.

Confusion persists over the number of dead in the mosque, and in the subsequent rioting. The official toll was 40, but hospitals in Hebron, Jerusalem, Gaza, Bethlehem and Nablus reported 55 dead, and at least half a dozen victims are said to have been buried without notification to the authorities.

Derek Brown


Derek Brown

The GuardianTramp

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