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Israeli Guards Pose Questions Concerning Hebron Massacre

By David Hoffman
The Washington Post
JERUSALEM

Two Israeli soldiers posted as guards at the Tomb of the Patriarchs on the day of the Hebron massacre raised new questions Thursday about the weapon used by Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein and whether he had an accomplice.

The two soldiers also said that one of them fired into a door from which survivors of the massacre were expected to flee, contradicting earlier claims from a senior military commander that he had only shot at the ceiling. The two soldiers said no one was hit, but one of them acknowledged the shooting may have prolonged the evacuation.

Their testimony came as the Israeli commission investigating the massacre in which 29 Arabs were killed on Feb. 25 heard for the first time from the soldiers who were guards at the scene that morning. Their statements were contradictory and inconclusive but challenged some points of the army's initial accounts. The army said that Goldstein was the only person who carried out the slaughter and that all the bullets were fired by him.

Sgt. Kobi Yosef, who was guarding the East Gate, where Muslim worshipers entered the mosque, told the panel that he saw Goldstein, a physician from the nearby settlement of Kiryat Arba, enter the building. Other testimony has said Goldstein entered through the Main Gate. These were the two entrances into the edifice, where a small group of Jews and several hundred Muslims were worshiping simultaneously in different chambers.

Yosef said Goldstein was carrying an M-16 assault rifle, the standard issue in the U.S. armed forces. Previously, the army and other witnesses had said Goldstein carried out the attack with an Israeli-made Galil assault rifle. The army has said ballistics tests showed that the 110 shells found at the scene had come from a Galil.

An army spokesman said Thursday that a Galil was found at the scene. Both guns use the same 5.56mm ammunition. The Galil model he referred to is shorter than the standard M-16.

According to previous statements, Goldstein brought seven magazines of ammunition with him in a purple bag into the Muslim prayer hall before opening fire. He apparently exhausted 3{ magazines. He was later bludgeoned to death by survivors with a fire extinguisher.

Yosef said that five minutes after Goldstein entered, he saw a second person go inside with a small version of the Galil, known as the Gleelon.

"Are you sure?" he was asked.

"Yes," Yosef replied. "It was a settler whom I didn't know."

Yosef said he had been at the Tomb of the Patriarchs for four months and knew all the Jewish settlers who prayed there regularly. An unarmed third person also entered, Yosef said, describing him as an army worker he recognized.

Niv Drori, a private in the tank corps who was Yosef's partner at the Eastern Gate, said he also saw Goldstein enter with an M-16 and then saw another person enter with the Gleelon. Asked if he was sure, Drori replied, "100 percent." However, neither he nor Yosef described the second person in detail.

The last soldier to see Goldstein, Lt. Rotem Ravivi, commander of the watch who was stationed at the passageway leading to the Muslim worshipers, testified Goldstein was carrying a Gleelon. Ravivi said he did not recall seeing another person with the weapon.

A fourth soldier outside said he did not recall what kind of weapon Goldstein was carrying.

A number of Palestinian witnesses and survivors have claimed that Goldstein was helped by another Jewish settler, but the accounts have been contradictory and vague.

When the shooting began, Drori said, he and Yosef thought an Arab was shooting. Drori said he shot at the door of the East Gate at chest height in order to block it. Yosef said he shot in the air. He said they believed they were saving their own lives. "They would have trampled us," he said. "There was a boy who was trampled and killed. They of course would not pity us. There was a big mess."

Yosef acknowledged that he forced the wounded to be evacuated on a longer route through the Main Gate. He said that when Drori fired at the door, the worshipers "hadn't reached the door yet." He said they did not realize until later that a Jew had done the shooting inside, and that the Muslims were fleeing for their lives.