Precede JERUSALEM Police Arrest Sect Leader, Besiege Armed Followers
YEHUD, Israel (AP) _ Police arrested a charismatic sect leader and dozens of supporters in a raid before dawn today. Some armed members of the group remained inside their fortified compound in suburban Tel Aviv, surrounded by hundreds of officers.
Rabbi Uzi Meshulam and his followers had been holed up in the one-acre compound for six weeks, turning it into a makeshift armed camp. Guards with assault rifles man observation points atop a two-story stucco house, and the area is surrounded by oil barrels and sandbag fortifications.
Meshulam’s small group of Jews of Yemenite origin accuse authorities of kidnapping hundreds of newborns in the 1950s and giving them to Jewish families of European origin. They demand an official inquiry.
One man was wounded during the raid, shot by a police sniper after he opened fire on a police helicopter, said police spokesman Gadi Doron. Radio reports said a woman also was injured.
Doron said Meshulam and about 50 supporters were detained, some in the Yehud compound and others in homes throughout Israel. The self-proclaimed rabbi will be charged with insurgency, Doron said.
According to radio reports, Meshulam was arrested as he voluntarily left the compound to meet with police.
Yehud residents said they heard an extended gun battle including rounds of automatic fire around 4 a.m.
An unknown number of Meshulam supporters remained in the compound and police were asking them to come out.
″We are ready for anything,″ said an unidentified man inside the compound, in comments broadcast on Israel’s army radio. ″When someone comes to kill you, you kill him first.″
Police had been trying to get the men to leave the compound for six weeks on the grounds that they carried unregistered weapons. Police Inspector- General Assaf Hefetz attempted to negotiate with Meshulam, but in the end Hefetz led the assault on the stronghold, according to reports.
Another man interviewed on radio said the group was demanding Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin promise to investigate their allegations. Earlier inquiries uncovered no intentional separation of Yemenite children from parents.
Many residents of the area felt the police overreacted.
″If they had not insisted on surrounding him nothing would have ever happened,″ said Haviva Levi, a Yemen-born woman in her 60s who said she supported Meshulam’s demands because of the mysterious disappearance of her 12-day-old daughter in 1949.
″One moment she was perfectly healthy, and the next moment nurses told me she died,″ said Levi. ″No body, no grave, no death certificate.″