HEBRON, West Bank -- It was a quiet Friday morning as hundreds of Palestinian Muslims began their daily Ramadan fast and crowded the Tomb of the Patriarchs mosque for prayers.
'We were all bent down, bowing,' said Hashem Ajeid, 50. 'The shooting started suddenly and people just started running for the doors. '
Ajeid himself was grazed in the head by a bullet and lay in a hospital bed hours later swathed in bandages. More than 30 others were unable to escape the shower of automatic weapons fire and collapsed dead upon the prayer rugs of the ancient mosque, a sacred shrine to both Muslims and Jews believed to be the burial ground of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The gunman, Dr. Baruch Goldstein, sprayed the worshipers with his Galil assault rifle and was later killed himself in one of the most violent attacks by a single person in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Blood from the massive carnage swelled into puddles in the mosque and dripped down the steps toward the street before workers mopped it up.
In the streets outside the shrine, Palestinian youths threw stones at Israeli troops who responded first with rubber bullets and tear gas, then with live ammunition. Officials said at least 44 Palestinians were killed in the mosque attack and violence that followed.
Palestinians also threw rocks at any vehicle that carried a yellow Israeli license plate, and smashed the windows of numerous buses and trucks parked near the mosque. The army eventually imposed a curfew on both the town and the settlement of Kiryat Arba, where Goldstein lived.
But the bloodshed was most evident at the city's two hospitals, where victims of the attack lay bleeding in hospital beds, stretchers or simply on the floor. Hundreds of relatives milled around outside the buildings looking for news of whether husbands and sons were injured or dead.
Sha'ban Shwiki, 31, lay in his hospital bed wearing bandages all over his left leg, where he was hit three times by bullets from the gunman.
'I fell to the ground and other bodies fell on top of me,' he said. 'I didn't see anything.'