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Saloum Cohen; was lawmaker and Samaritan high priest

MOUNT GERIZIM, West Bank -- Saloum Cohen, high priest of the tiny Samaritan community and a Palestinian lawmaker, died yesterday at a hospital near Tel Aviv. He was 82.

Mr. Cohen had cancer, said Yousef Afis, a spokesman for the Samaritans -- an ancient religious sect that claims descent from the biblical Israelites.

Mr. Cohen had been the spiritual head of the 660-strong Samaritans since 2001 and had filled a slot reserved for a community representative in the Palestinian Parliament since 1996.

He was succeeded as high priest by his assistant, Abdul Moin Tzadaka.

Dozens of Samaritans went to Mr. Cohen's house yesterday, reading and chanting tracts from their holy books. Almost all of the community, which is split between the West Bank and Israel, was expected at a funeral later in the day.

Jesus mentioned a Samaritan in a parable -- the only traveler who stopped to care for a man who was robbed, beaten, and left for dead along the side of a road, the good Samaritan bandaged and salved the man's wounds with wine and oil.

Today, their community is divided. Half live on Mount Gerizim, sandwiched between the West Bank city of Nablus and a Jewish settlement. The rest live in the Israeli seaside town of Holon.

The geographical split represents the difficult position of the community, stuck between the warring Israelis and the Palestinians. Many Samaritans carry both Israeli and Palestinian identification cards. They speak an ancient Hebrew dialect as well as modern Hebrew and Arabic. While Mr. Cohen was a member of the Palestinian legislature, most community members are also eligible to vote in Israel.

Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, and other Palestinian officials called the community to express their condolences for Mr. Cohen's death, Afis said.

"He was a wise man and a friend to all the people of Nablus," said Nablus's governor, Mahmoud Alalouz, who called Mr. Cohen a true friend of the Palestinian people and a dedicated parliamentarian. "This is a great loss," he said. Mr. Cohen was also a merchant dealing in carpets and crystal and served the community as a ritual slaughterer, Afis said.

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