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Report criticizes commanders in shooting deaths

A government commission's report on the stone-throwing and shooting deaths in Jerusalem's Old City early this month sharply criticized senior Israeli police commanders Friday, saying they had not adequately prepared for the possibility of trouble. But the study, published Friday, concluded the officers who shot and killed 21 Palestinians near Al Aksa Mosque were blameless.

The report puts all the responsibility for the violence and killing on the Palestinians and concludes "the use of live ammunition on the Temple Mount under the prevailing conditions was found to be justified" because the police officers "were afraid for their lives."

It says Muslim clerics and others incited the Palestinian crowd to violence, and it calls the stoning of Jewish worshipers that resulted in slight wounds to 11 people "a terrible criminal act."

But the report also confirms independent investigations that said Jewish worshipers had long fled out of range of the Palestinian stone-throwers before the police opened fire, although it adds that the authorities feared for the lives of two Arab police employees who were thought to be under siege by crowds on the Haram al-Sharif, also known as the Temple Mount.

The report appears to wholly discount the version of events put forth by Palestinians and several independent investigators.

But it also does not substantiate the contention by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and other senior officials that Palestinians who threw stones on Jewish worshipers that day were carrying out a well-planned attack intended to draw world attention back to their cause.

Israel intends to offer a copy of the document to the U.N. Security Council with the hope that it will quell international criticism and the demands for an independent U.N. inquiry. But it seems unlikely that the report will accomplish either goal.

The three commissioners, appointed by Shamir two days after the incident on Oct. 8, suggest some administrative changes, but they offer no recommendations for disciplinary action against anyone. But the document does include sharp criticism of senior police commanders.

"In the hands of police, there was prior information about the possibility of riots at the Temple Mount," it said, adding the police officials' response to that information was "routine and mistaken."

The commission was headed by Zvi Zamir, a former head of the Mossad intelligence agency, and also included two other former government officials. None of them are considered to be clear political partisans.

Reaction to the report was limited Friday, since it was released at the start of the Jewish Sabbath. But Palestinians called it a whitewash.

"It's one-sided and expresses only the Israeli view," said Radwan Abu Ayash, head of the Palestinian journalists' association.

Faisal Husseini, regarded as the top Palestine Liberation Organization representative in the occupied territories, said, "This was not an investigation committee. It was an editing committee with the purpose of making a formula for the position of the Israeli government."

Some members of the Israeli political left offered similar opinions, though in less categorical language.

But Shamir said the report demonstrated "the state of Israel examines itself, by an unconditional investigator, something that only few states do, and none in this region."

"We will study the report with great attention and will discuss the conclusions and recommendations without delay," he said.

The report lays out a chronology of events similar to those offered by Israeli and Palestinian human-rights organizations, journalists and others. But its interpretations are different in several respects.

For example, the report concludes police opened fire on crowds of Palestinians long after the Jewish worshipers at the base of the Western Wall, below the Haram al-Sharif, and the police had withdrawn from areas where they could be hit by rocks.

But it says Palestinians continued to throw stones at others in a nearby parking lot.