This is how spokesman Noam Arnon summed up the incident, which occurred late Thursday afternoon: "Arabs jumped on and attacked our children, stole a goat, and injured one of the children with a rock. The children identified a suspect, and soldiers detained him, but the officer who arrived let him go - and then four of our people were taken in for questioning."

The basic facts of the story, as reported by those who took part, are as follows:

A 6th-grade boy of the Hevron Jewish Community was walking and leading one of his family's goats along King David St., the main road between the Avraham Avinu and Beit Hadassah neighborhoods. At one point, he encountered a group of Arab youths who had cut through barbed wire to get into the Jewish area. The Arabs hit the boy, threw rocks at him, and stole his goat.

The Jewish boy and several of his friends then ran into the Casba open-air market in an attempt to retrieve the goat. They also called several adults, in response to which Arnon and a few mothers arrived on the scene.

The adults asked the Arabs in the market if they had seen the boys who stole the goat. Israeli security forces soon arrived, and the Jewish boys asked them to detain one of their attackers whom they had identified in the interim.

"The suspect was detained," Arnon said, "but unbelievably, after a few minutes, the Arab attacker simply left the place, in front of the officer and soldiers, and they did nothing to stop him. The children called out, 'He's getting away!' but the officer refused to arrest him and refused to explain why. Instead, he called for Yassam police officers, who started pushing the Jews out of the area."

Four Jews were arrested in the course of their being pushed away, including the boy who had been attacked, another boy, and two women.

The Shai District Police released a statement saying that "three settlers were arrested after they entered the Arab market, threw stones at Arabs, and held an illegal assembly."

"The Hevron police, as usual, cover up for Arab criminal behavior," Arnon said, "with false arrests of Jews and libels as if the Jews are suspected of criminal behavior."

The Hevron Jewish Community is considering taking the officer and the other policemen to court, in light of their part in letting the suspect - and a likely lead to the recovery of their stolen goat - go free. "We had hoped that the police had changed their ways," a Hevron resident said, "but we were wrong. We demand fair treatment and enforcement of law on Arabs as well." Jewish residents of Hevron have long complained of unfair treatment at the hands of police.

A complaint was submitted to the IDF Judea Brigade Commander, Col. Moti Baruch, who said he would investigate.