JERUSALEM, OCT. 10 -- Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, hoping to reduce mounting pressure for action against Israel by the United Nations, appointed an investigative commission today to probe clashes between police and Palestinians on the Old City's Temple Mount on Monday, during which 19 Arabs were killed.
Israeli radio said the three-member commission will be headed by reserve Maj. Gen. Zvi Zamir, a former chief of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency. It said the committee will be charged with investigating "the events themselves" on the Temple Mount "as well as the preparedness of the security forces and their actions once the disturbances began."
Yossi Ahimeir, Shamir's spokesman, told reporters that no international probe would be needed because "it will now be investigated by ourselves," adding that what would be investigated is "the marginal point of whether it was excessive force or not."
Other members of the panel will be Chaim Kubersky, a former deputy interior minister, and Yaacov Neeman, a prominent attorney and partner in a Tel Aviv firm with Israeli President Chaim Herzog.
Following Monday's bloodshed, causing the most fatalities since Israel captured the Old City from Jordan in 1967, police and their commanders have come under severe criticism from Israeli politicians and governments abroad. They are accused of failing to anticipate conflict with the thousands of Palestinians who congregated on the Haram Sharif, as the Temple Mount is known to Moslems.
Police said the Palestinians threw stones at Jewish worshipers gathered at the nearby Western Wall for Sukkot holiday observances and attacked a police post. This forced besieged officers to open fire, police said. In addition to the 19 Palestinians killed, at least 140 were wounded, police said, and about a half-dozen policemen and 22 Jewish civilians were reported hit by rocks.
Israeli television and major Israeli newspapers said today that investigations by security organs had undermined the police account that Palestinians deliberately planned the stone-throwing attack on the Western Wall. Instead, the news reports said, Israel's own investigations tended to support Arab claims that the crowd had gathered to head off an announced demonstration by a group of Jewish extremists near the Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques, which make up Islam's third-holiest site.
Israeli news media have also mentioned reports that police on the Temple Mount fired automatic weapons at demonstrators, and shot some Palestinians in the back, apparently as they were running away.
The Israeli investigative commission will be independent of the government and police, but will lack the power of a state commission, such as the one that investigated the 1982 massacre at the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps during Israel's invasion of Lebanon. It will not be able to subpoena reluctant witnesses, Israeli radio said, and its findings will not be binding.
Asked whether the panel's hearings would be public, Ahimeir indicated they would not, saying that they "will be subject to the usual security laws."
The announcement of the panel came as Israel struggled to head off moves in the U.N. Security Council to dispatch an investigative delegation to Jerusalem, either on authority of the Security Council or by appointment of Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar. The United States has drafted resolutions criticizing the behavior of Israeli police and welcoming the dispatch of an envoy by Perez de Cuellar.
Senior government officials said they were upset by developments in the Security Council and by the stance of the United States, but continued to hope that Washington ultimately would veto any formal effort by the Security Council to investigate Israel. Shamir has said the government will not accept a Security Council delegation, which Israel contends would represent an unjustified intervention in its affairs.
In the past, Israel has been willing to cooperate with envoys sent by Perez de Cuellar, in part because they do not have the power to report back to the Security Council and precipitate action. But government officials warned today that they might refuse to cooperate with such an envoy if the mission were expanded into a commission or if the U.N. action appeared one-sided.
"It would depend on the fine print -- the details and the wording are important," said Avi Pazner, a senior aide to Shamir. "We don't want to be completely negative in terms of how we will react. But generally we don't like what is going on at the United Nations."
Senior Israeli officials said the government also was upset by President Bush's criticism of Israel Tuesday, in particular his reference to a "Palestine question." That phrase is considered by Israelis to be a code term used by Arabs who do not recognize Israel's right to exist. "It may have been a slip of the tongue, but this is the first time we have heard such a thing from an American president," said one official who asked not to be identified.
Israeli army forces today continued to keep all of the Gaza Strip and much of the West Bank under curfew, and nearly half of the national police force was deployed in the Old City and East Jerusalem to head off further turmoil. Palestinians continued to respect a strike in the occupied territories.
Palestinian sources told Reuter that Israeli troops shot and wounded 16 Arabs in clashes in the Gaza Strip and wounded a 10-year-old boy in the Fara refugee camp near Nablus in the West Bank.
A court in Jerusalem granted a police petition to continue holding two top Palestinian leaders whom police accuse of inciting Monday's violence. They are the deputy mufti of Jerusalem, Sheik Mohammed Jamal, and Faisal Husseini, the most prominent nationalist leader in East Jerusalem. Israeli radio said Jamal was charged with rebellion and Husseini with incitement, but attorneys for both men argued that they had tried to calm the crowds on the Temple Mount.