JERUSALEM, Oct. 8 (AP)--Israelis mark Yom Kippur beginning Sunday evening, the holiest day of the Jewish year, in an atmosphere of anxiety that many compared with the Day of Atonement 27 years ago, when an Israeli-Arab war erupted.
Rabbis announced special dispensations from the strict fasting-and-prayer observances. Combat soldiers were permitted to break the fast, and observant Jews were told they to keep the radio on so they could keep up-to-date in an emergency.
The deaths of 82 people, most Palestinians, in 11 days of rock-throwing riots and gun battles in the West Bank and Gaza Strip shattered hopes nursed by many Israelis that their long conflict with the Arab world was coming to an end.
Many said the violence, as well as the kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers by Lebanese guerrillas, evoked the trauma of October 1973, when Egypt and Syria took advantage of the Day of Atonement and launched a surprise attack on unprepared and undermanned Israeli forces occupying the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights.
"We have not freed ourselves of the heavy shadow of that day, 27 years ago, when the sirens sounded and nearly 3,000 of our sons died," said Israel's Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau.
Yom Kippur began at sundown Sunday and lasts until sunset on Monday. Jews traditionally fast during this period as part of the atonement. In Israel, where a majority of the Jewish population partake of the holy day rituals, buses and trains come to a halt just before sundown and shops and businesses closed down.
Trying to calm a nervous population, Prime Minister Ehud Barak promised that Israel would overcome its present difficulties. Barak, a retired and much-decorated general, said Israel had survived much worse crises in the past.
"We had another Yom Kippur 27 years ago, when everything looked really desperate, but we emerged victorious," he said.
The country's two main broadcasting stations cease transmission during Yom Kippur. This year, however, the radio and television were on an emergency footing, able to resume broadcasting in the event of a crisis. For the first time, the two national TV networks maintained skeleton crews during the holy day.
During Yom Kippur in 1973, radio stations reopened to broadcast call-up codes for army reserve units. Soldiers were summoned out of synagogues to don uniforms and report to the front.
If the clashes with the Palestinians continue during Yom Kippur, the radios may transmit warnings that certain roads are not safe for traffic because of Palestinian shooting or throwing of stones or firebombs.
Jewish law forbids switching on the radio during the Sabbath and Jewish holy days. But when human life is at stake, the radio should be left on from before the beginning of the fast, Lau said.
Such a system was employed during the 1991 Gulf War, when Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein fired long-range Scud missiles into Israel. Some religious Jews, unused to having a radio turned on during the holidays, placed their receiver in a closet or a drawer, Lau said.
The chief rabbi also carefully outlined dispensations for soldiers and those on guard duty. If a Jew is required to do guard duty and must be alert, he should drink a sip of water--less than 30 fluid ounces--and if a soldier has to fight, he should eat and drink all he needs, the rabbi said.
Under the crack of gunfire from several nearby Palestinian neighborhoods, Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza prepared for the highest of holy days.
In Psagot, which has come under some of the heaviest fire, Brigitte Shurba took a break from baking bread for the traditional pre-fast meal. Sitting in a living room lined with religious texts, the mother of six said she would not allow the shooting to affect the observance. "We won't leave the radio on because if something happens we'll know anyway," she said.