JERUSALEM (Sep. 4)
Michael Denis William Rohen, accused of setting the Al Aksa mosque fire here Aug. 21, has agreed to permit his trial to be televised. Mr. Rohen’s decision, announced in Jerusalem district court yesterday, will enable Israel to use the trial in an effort to offset Arab propaganda on the fire.
A prominent Israeli criminal lawyer, Isaac Tunik of Tel Aviv, was assigned by the court to defend Mr. Rohen, but the defendant has yet to accept the court’s choice. The trial is expected to begin later this month. Judge Henry Baker, the court’s president, extended Mr. Rohen’s detention until the end of the trial.
Meanwhile, three prominent East Jerusalem Moslem leaders have informed the judicial commission investigating the fire that they would not testify. Sheikh Hilmi el Muhtasib and Hassan Tahboub, director of the Waqf (Moslem religious trusteeship), said they were rejecting invitations to testify on the ground that they do not recognize the legality of the commission,. A third Arab and a former Jordanian minister. Anwar Nusseibeh, wrote that he had no personal knowledge of the fire or its causes.
The commission heard the last Jewish witnesses yesterday. Police Chief Daniel Barelli told the commission that he did not order the use of force to disperse the crowds that interfered with the firemen attempting to extinguish the blaze as he did not want to fan the tempers of the crowd. Three of the firemen testified that Arab crowds jeered them, jostled them, and tried to slash their hoses.
Mr. Rohen is charged with two counts of arson and two counts of “violation of holy places.”Each count of arson carries a maximum 15-year penalty and each count of violation of a shrine carries a possible seven-year penalty. A 300-seat hall in Jerusalem’s convention center will be turned into a courtroom for the trial so that hundreds of newsmen can cover it.