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Witnesses challenging findings on massacre

Challenging the army's account of the mosque massacre, worshiper Maliha Jaberi said Israeli soldiers burst into a chamber next to the mosque and opened fire on Palestinians fleeing the gunfire of a Jewish settler.

"Soldiers came in shooting," said Mrs. Jaberi, 54, her head grazed by a bullet.

She is one of several Palestinians raising questions about what happened Friday when Baruch Goldstein, a supporter of the anti-Arab Kach group, sprayed kneeling Muslims with bullets from his Galil automatic rifle.

The army said Goldstein alone was responsible for the deaths of about 40 Palestinians. Dozens more were wounded at the Ibrahim Mosque.

But three days after the shooting in Hebron, many questions remain:

How could one man cause so many casualties? Why didn't the army tighten security after they learned of rising tensions between Jewish and Muslim worshipers? Why didn't Israeli guards monitoring closed-circuit TV cameras act sooner? Why wasn't there a tape of the shooting? Did security forces ignore early warning signs that Jewish extremists were planning an attack on a mosque?

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin bristled Monday at Palestinian conspiracy claims, telling Parliament that "any attempt to present Israeli soldiers as collaborators in the massacre . . . is ridiculous."

Rabin said all 111 shells in the prayer hall came from Goldstein's Galil.

According to army investigators, Israeli troops in the Tomb of Patriarchs and outside the entrance fired in the air during the confusion that followed the massacre. But none of their bullets hit Palestinians, they said.

The army probe says Goldstein, 38, wore his army reserve uniform Friday when he arrived about 5:30 a.m. at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a 2,000-year-old monument marking the burial sites of Abraham, Sarah and other biblical figures.

Jewish settlers must remove the ammunition from their guns before entering the Tomb area. But Goldstein, carrying the Galil and four 35-bullet clips, was not stopped by the one officer and four soldiers on duty.

Goldstein did his reserve duty in the brigade that provides security for the Tomb area, and it was possible the guards thought he was on duty, said an army official.

Goldstein initially entered the Jewish prayer area where about 15 worshipers, all armed, were praying, the army said. From there, he tried to reach the mosque area, but the connecting door was bolted by six locks.

Goldstein then tried two other entrances, before slipping into the Muslim prayer hall through a fourth. From there, he opened fire on about 400 worshipers, said Maj. Gen. Danny Yatom, the army commander of the occupied West Bank.

The army has re-enacted the shooting and found that a soldier could fire 111 bullets in 30 seconds. "It was very easy to harm a lot of people," Yatom said.

The guard commander tried to get into the prayer hall but was pushed back by frantic survivors trying to get out, the army said.

He tried two other entrances but was stopped by Palestinians who blocked the doors, fearing he was another gunman, said Yatom. When the officer finally got into the prayer hall, he found Goldstein bludgeoned to death in a corner.

Meanwhile, the two soldiers at the guard post just inside the Tomb of the Patriarchs fired seven to nine harmless shots in the air, the army said.

However, Mrs. Jaberi said she was in the anteroom connecting the outer entrance and the prayer area when three soldiers ran toward her firing, wounding her and a woman next to her.

The prayer leader, Sheik Adel Idries, said worshipers inside the prayer hall tried to attack Goldstein each time he paused to reload. When they finally got him, they beat him to death with iron bars and a fire extinguisher.

Idries said he only saw Goldstein shooting in the hall.

But worshiper Badran Idries, a relative of the prayer leader, said that as he ran toward Goldstein to jump him, he noticed that a door was ajar behind the gunman and someone was firing through the slit.

The prayer hall has seven closed-circuit TV cameras that are monitored by Israeli guards, but army officials said no tapes were found.

Meanwhile, other questions were raised about whether Israeli security ignored early warnings of a possible attack.

A Shin Bet security agent planted among Kach disciples reported to his superiors in 1990 that Kach followers in the militant Jewish settlement of Kiryat Arba planned to kill Arabs in a mosque, including the Ibrahim Mosque, according to the Yedioth Ahronoth daily.

Goldstein, a Kiryat Arba resident, said during Purim celebrations in 1990 that "the day will come when one Jew will go wild and take revenge against the Arabs," the agent told his superiors.

Goldstein also has visited at least three times convicted Israeli mass killer Ami Popper, who is serving life terms for shooting seven Palestinians in 1990.

A settler spokesman, Noam Arnon, said a final straw may have come Thursday evening when several dozen Jews, including Goldstein, prayed in their section of the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

While the Jews were marking the Purim holiday, taunts of "slaughter the Jews" drifted over from the Muslim section, said Arnon. He said Goldstein was so upset he left abruptly.

He was back eleven hours later.