Soldiers Say Mystery Settler Followed Goldstein Into Mosque
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Two army guards testified today that Baruch Goldstein did not enter the Hebron mosque armed with the Galil assault rifle used to carry out the massacre, but that a second Jewish settler following Goldstein had such a weapon.
The testimony before Israel’s commission of inquiry raised the possibility that Goldstein had an accomplice. Palestinian witnesses have repeatedly said he did not act alone.
The soldiers also told the commission that they fired at least four bullets at a door leading to the mosque when they heard the noise of the massacre, and not just in the air as their commanding officers testified.
A PLO panel investigating the massacre on its own said Wednesday that it believed at least one worshiper was killed and others wounded by army gunfire in the confusion of the massacre.
Palestinians are boycotting the Israeli government’s inquiry, claiming it will not be impartial. The commission began hearing testimony March 8.
Sgt. Kobi Yosef, one of the guards at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, said Goldstein carried an M-16 assault rifle when he walked past the guard post at 5:20 a.m. on Feb. 25. The army has said the 110 spent shells in the Ibrahim Mosque were fired from a Galil found next to the body of Goldstein, who was beaten to death by Muslim worshipers after he finished shooting.
Chief Justice Meir Shamgar asked Yosef whether he was sure about the type of weapon, noting other soldiers had testified Goldstein carried a Galil.
″I specifically saw him enter with an M-16. About five minutes later, another man entered with a Glilon (a mini-Galil) close to his body,″ Yosef said.
″It was a settler I didn’t know,″ he said. ″It’s the first time I saw him there. I know all the Jews there.″
Yosef said he had been a guard at the Tomb of the Patriarchs for four months so he knew all the regular worshipers by sight. The man carrying the Galil was not one of them, he said.
Two other guards, Sgt. Niv Drori and Erez Elimelech, also said Goldstein carried an M-16 when he entered. A fourth guard, Cpl. Benny Binyamin, said he did not remember the type of weapon Goldstein carried or whether another settler followed him inside.
Yosef and Drori also testified that when they heard shots coming out of the mosque area, they opened fire, including at least four shots aimed at the door leading to the mosque and the rest in the air. Both insisted their shots did not hit any fleeing worshipers.
Maj. Gen. Danny Yatom, the top army commander in the West Bank, had said that soldiers fired only in the air and that no Palestinians were wounded or killed by army gunfire in the Tomb area.
Yosef said he and his colleague at first thought an Arab terrorist was shooting inside the mosque and they shot toward the door before any panicked worshipers arrived.
″We wanted to create a jam at the door,″ Yosef said. ″We were afraid the shooter, if he was an Arab, would come outside ... and would also hurt us.″
Drori said he fired ″something like″ three bullets at the door. Yosef, who said he fired at least once at the door, said the shots were about chest height.
Asked how he could be sure he did not hit anyone, Yosef said: ″Somebody could have been hurt if he stood there. But there was no one there at the time.″
Yosef said they stopped firing when a wounded man staggered out.
″He was full of blood. We understood that a Jew was firing inside, not an Arab,″ he said.
The two guards said they believed at least one Palestinian was trampled to death.
They said that shortly after the shooting inside the mosque began, they locked the main gate, forcing the worshipers to take a longer route to another exit to evacuate the wounded.
″We made their way longer, but we also made our lives longer,″ said Yosef. ″They would have trampled us to death. One little boy who was wounded in the leg, fell and was trampled to death.″