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Hebron Gunman Carried Confession, Panel Is Told : Massacre: Commission asks to see letter army officer says was in killer's bag. Possibility of cover-up is raised.

March 10, 1994|MICHAEL PARKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HEBRON, Israeli-Occupied West Bank — The Israeli settler who massacred about 30 Palestinians as they prayed here in a mosque two weeks ago brought with him, in the same bag with his extra ammunition, a confession explaining his motives, the army officer on duty at the site said Wednesday.

Second Lt. Rotem Ravivi told a special commission investigating the Feb. 25 attack that he found "a letter of confession" in Dr. Baruch Goldstein's purple flight bag after worshipers had overpowered the killer and beaten him to death.

Although two letters from Goldstein to city officials and other physicians in Kiryat Arba, the settlement where he lived and worked, had obliquely hinted at his plans and had been released quickly, the confession found at the Cave of the Patriarchs here had never been disclosed, though a confidential army report referred to it.

Chief Justice Meir Shamgar, commission chairman, called upon the army to produce the confession when the commission resumes its hearings in Jerusalem today.

Disclosure of the confession and other information that emerged in the panel's daylong inspection of the shrine here raised anew the possibility of an attempted cover-up by the Israeli military.

Based on the army investigation, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and other Israeli leaders have described Goldstein as "crazy," "a lunatic" and "one man acting alone," rather than a member of an underground group of Jewish extremists determined to upset peace negotiations with the Palestinians and thus prevent Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank.

But even early testimony by witnesses has indicated that Goldstein acted with premeditation, careful planning--and perhaps not alone.

Palestinian leaders have already suggested that Israeli soldiers, or perhaps other settlers in uniform, may also have been part of the attack.

According to soldiers on duty that Friday, Goldstein was driven to the shrine by an unidentified man before dawn.

He was dressed in a uniform and carried seven magazines of ammunition for his assault rifle--a full load for foot soldiers in the troubled West Bank but an extraordinary amount for an army doctor. Around his neck he wore the type of ear protectors used on firing ranges.

Questions also arose Wednesday about how Goldstein managed to slip around Ravivi into the Muslim side of the shrine, whether Goldstein had entered through another door that had been left unlocked and how Goldstein left the flight bag in a hall where 13 Jewish men were praying without any seeing him.

And why, local Muslim leaders asked the commission, did the Israeli military governor of Hebron order the mosque cleansed of blood--and perhaps much physical evidence--with high-powered fire hoses just before the commission began its investigation? They had asked, they said, that everything be left as it was to allow a full, independent inquiry.

Guarded by hundreds of soldiers, the commission inspected the Ibrahim Mosque at the Cave of the Patriarchs and other sites in Hebron for seven hours Wednesday, retracing Goldstein's path, step by step, through the murder at the shrine, then following the spread of riots through the city.

Since the massacre, the public has been barred from the Cave of the Patriarchs, a shrine holy to Jews and Muslims as the traditional burial place of such biblical figures as Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and Jacob.

Soldiers from half a dozen different Israeli divisions, along with paramilitary border troops and police, were stationed on roofs and in the streets near the 2,000-year-old Cave of the Patriarchs and throughout central Hebron.

Streets were deserted because of an army-imposed curfew that has kept the city's 70,000 Palestinians at home since the massacre.

About 100 journalists were allowed in the shrine but barred from Isaac's Hall, where the massacre occurred.

Accounts of the visit and testimony were provided later by the Israeli news agency Itim, the Government Press Office and the Justice Ministry.

Ravivi told the commission that he saw Goldstein enter the door to Abraham Hall, where Jews pray, and from which it is possible to enter Isaac Hall, where Muslims pray. Ravivi did not keep his eyes on Goldstein and so could not say how he entered Isaac Hall.

When he heard shooting, Ravivi continued, he tried to enter Isaac Hall but was blocked, finding two doors locked and the third filled with a crush of people trying to escape the firing. It took three minutes from the start of shooting until the incident was over.

Palestinians living adjacent to the shrine, some of whom had been praying there at the time of the massacre, came out of their houses to offer versions of events that conflicted sharply with that provided by the Israeli military.

"More than 50 were killed--we saw their bodies, we went to their funerals," one woman said. A neighbor added: "It was not Goldstein alone--we saw the soldiers shooting too."

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