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Interest Fades in Mosque Fire Trial After Defendant Confesses Guilt

Accounts of the El Aksa mosque fire trial moved from the front pages to inside pages of Israeli newspapers today indicating flagging interest in the proceedings since the accused arsonist, Denis Michael William Rohan, admitted in court Tuesday that he had set the fire. The 400 seat concert hall in the Jerusalem convention center was half empty as Mr. Rohan’s defense lawyer, Yitzhak Tunik, took testimony from a young Arab guide who had escorted Rohan around the Temple Mount area, and several other minor witnesses. There were only 20 newsmen in the courtroom compared to 45 when the trial opened Monday.

The damaged mosque itself was the scene of a Moslem ceremonial last night. The occasion was a holiday commemorating the ascent to heaven of the Prophet Mohammed from the site on which the mosque now stands. That religious event makes the El Aksa mosque the third holiest shrine of Islam. The mosque was re-opened for prayers two weeks ago, its burnt-out section concealed from worshippers by a partition.

The defense testimony at the trial today was intended to support Rohan’s plea that he was mentally ill at the time of his offense. The principal witness was 18-year-old Munir Kazaz who worked during the summer as a temporary guide in the Temple Mount area. He is the son of the Muezzin, a religious functionary who calls the faithful to their daily prayers. Kazaz testified that Rohan “wandered around the Temple Mount area talking to himself and seemed a little off balance.” He said that young Arab boys who served as guides regarded the 28-year-old Australian as a “simpleton.”

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