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Atmosphere in Territories Tense As Investigation of Riots Begins

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A combination of heavy reinforcements and the exercise of restraint by security forces averted further blood-shed between Israelis and Arabs a week after the Temple Mount riots.

But the atmosphere was tense and far from quiet over the weekend.

About 4,000 Moslem worshipers from East Jerusalem prayed at Temple Mount mosques on Friday, far fewer than normal on the Moslem Sabbath.

Soldiers and police barred the way to West Bank residents, however, leading to an angry demonstration by the disappointed worshipers. They were dispersed by water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets. No one was hurt.

In Israel proper, Arab villagers marched solemnly to mourn the 21 Palestinians killed by Israeli police on Oct. 8 in the Temple Mount rioting. The processions were peaceful, and the police stayed away.

A general curfew remained in force in the Gaza Strip, and partial curfews prevailed in many towns and refugee camps in the West Bank.

Two Palestinian youths were shot to death during violent confrontations in Jenin and in Tubas village, in the Samaria region.

Meanwhile, B’tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, published a detailed report of its own investigation into the Temple Mount riots.

It asserted, among other things, that the high casualties were evidence of uncontrolled firing into a crowd of people.

It suggested that the small number of injuries to Jewish civilians and security personnel combined raised questions about whether the police faced a life-threatening situation.

B’tselem said the police employed “very dangerous” automatic fire, opened fire without specific orders and continued to fire even after the rioters were fleeing.

A different account filtered from the government’s special inquiry commission, which began hearings Sunday in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Although no official statements were issued, media reports quoted police officers as testifying that they had no choice but to shoot live ammunition because they had run out of tear gas, were running low on rubber bullets and faced real danger.

The official inquiry is by a three-member panel headed by reserve Gen. Zvi Zamir, a former head of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency. Its other members are Haim Kubersky, former director general of the Interior Ministry, and Ya’acov Ne’eman, a lawyer.

Police Minister Ronni Milo said he was confident the panel would find the police had acted properly in response to a “wild and dangerous attack on a sacred site by Arab rioters.”

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