Violence Erupts at Funeral of Ashkelon Resident Stabbed in Gaza

Tension erupted into incidents of violence in Ashkelon Monday where an angry crowd of more than 2,000 attended the funeral of Haim Azran, a 35-year-old Ashkelon resident fatally stabbed by an Arab assailant in the Gaza market Saturday.

Feelings were exacerbated by the dedication of “Peace Square” in Ashkelon Sunday in honor of the late King Mohammed of Morocco, which infuriated rightwing elements. Azran’s funeral had been scheduled for Sunday and the townspeople were given to believe that it was postponed on government orders so as not to interfere with the dedication ceremonies, attended by Premier Shimon Peres.

Eli Dayan, the Moroccan-born Mayor of Ashkelon, tried to mollify the crowd at the funeral, explaining that it was delayed because the police insisted on an autopsy. But he was shouted down by hecklers, as was Health Minister Mordechai Gur who attended on behalf of the government.

Police reported several incidents of violence against Arabs visiting the town or passing through. Their cars were stoned and, in two cases, set on fire. Gur tried to assure the crowd that the fight against terrorism would continue.

SHARON READS A PREPARED STATEMENT

Ariel Sharon, Minister of Commerce and Industry, an outspoken Likud hawk, was on hand. He refused urgings by the crowd to speak. But he read a prepared statement to reporters later denouncing the honor to King Mohammed, father of the present ruler of Morocco, King Hassan.

He said if he had been consulted he would have recommended that the square be named instead in memory of the 21 Jews killed in an attack on the Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul earlier this month and that a street in Ashkelon be named in honor of Azran.

DISPUTE OVER HONOR TO KING MOHAMMED

Meanwhile, the dispute over the honor to King Mohammed continued along party lines. Laborites are urging closer contacts with Morocco while Likud and other rightwing parties are sharply critical of Peres’ recent moves in that direction.

Peres was the guest of King Hassan in Morocco last July. He stressed in dedicating the square in honor of Hassan’s father, that the late King had befriended Jews during World War II and at other times.

That has been disputed by Prof. Michael Abutbul of the Hebrew University’s Truman Institute. He claims, in a book published several months ago, that Mohammed collaborated with the Vichy regime in World War II and never aided his Jewish subjects.

But Labor MK Rafi Edri told a television interviewer Monday that Abutbul’s claim was disproven by other historians and charged Abutbul with seeking publicity for his book.

Edri said he had documentary proof of Mohammed’s help to Jews during the Vichy and Nazi periods, including statements by Moroccan Jewish leaders. He said there was also proof of a deathbed request by Mohammed to his son and successor, instructing him to continue caring for the welfare of Moroccan Jews as his forefathers had done for generations.

Edri was a member of Peres’ party when he visited Morocco. He was there again last week and had a private audience with Hassan.

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