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Jews, Arabs Join to Dig Out Last of 23 Killed in Cafe

March 02, 1992|From Associated Press

JERUSALEM — Arab and Jewish rescue workers on Sunday dug through mud, gravestones and coffins to pull the last of 23 bodies out of a cafe that collapsed after a mudslide carried part of a hillside cemetery onto the roof.

Twenty-two other Palestinians inside the Paradise Garden Cafe were injured in the Saturday afternoon accident, described as Jerusalem's worst building disaster in modern times.

Police said that the mudslide, loosened by near-record winter snowstorms and rain, caused the retaining wall of the cemetery to cave in. The mudslide from the cemetery then crushed the roof and a wall of the popular cafe across from the walled Old City.

About 20 people managed to flee the 45-by-15-foot cafe unharmed. Among the dead were the cafe's owner, Mohammed Salayma, and one of his sons.

A second son escaped because Salayma had sent him outside moments earlier to investigate a loud noise.

"My father heard a noise on the roof, like a rock had hit it, and told me to have a look," the son, Abed, was quoted as telling the Jerusalem Post. "Just as I walked out the door, I heard a loud crash."

He said he turned around to see the cafe flattened.

"It was like a nightmare," said Farhat abu Madi, an East Jerusalem barber who was playing poker inside at the time.

"In less than one second, the wall suddenly collapsed and the entire place filled with dust. We couldn't even hear a single scream. We ran out," he said.

The rescue effort was a rare show of Jewish-Arab solidarity in this city torn by decades of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Arabs, army rescue workers and Jews in skullcaps sifted through rubble side by side in search of survivors.

Tensions did surface when Arab bystanders tried to block Israeli ambulances from moving victims to Israeli hospitals.

Israeli police also had to hold back frantic Palestinians who surged forward to try to identify loved ones each time a body was brought out.

The rescue workers dug through mud, gravestones and coffins that poured in from the cemetery.

The cafe, established 40 years ago when East Jerusalem was under Jordanian rule, was a popular spot for Palestinians to drink thick Arabic coffee or smoke water pipes.

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