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A-G says wait for comptroller report before fire probe

ByREBECCA ANNA STOIL
December 27, 2010 20:06

In response to charges made by family of prison guard killed in bus, Weinstein says no criminal investigation against PM, Yishai, Barak.

A firefighter near Yemin Orde, Sunday

Firefighter carmel 311 ap. (photo credit:Associated Press)

Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein ruled Monday that there was no reason to open a criminal case against the country’s leadership for negligent manslaughter of the 44 people killed in the Carmel fire.

Instead, Weinstein said that he supports the probe by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss that is currently under way, and added that if the report finds a basis for criminal proceedings, he will reconsider his decision.



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Former police commanders Ze’ev Even-Chen and Haim Klein, the father and father-in-law of Topaz Even- Chen Klein, one of the people killed in the fire, had written a letter to Weinstein in which they argued that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Defense Minister Ehud Barak ignored the potential outcome of neglecting Israel’s fire services.

The outcome for the Even- Chen and Klein families was that 28-year-old Topaz, an Israel Prisons Service cadet, burned to death when she and other IPS reinforcements were trapped in the blaze en route to evacuate the Damun Prison.

Netanyahu held a tense three-hour meeting in his Tel Aviv office with Even-Chen and Klein on Monday. The two had called on Netanyahu to resign following the tragedy, and Even- Chen had complained that Netanyahu had never contacted the bereaved family to offer his condolences.

Weinstein wrote that there was no evidential basis to justify a criminal investigation of the ministers.

“The correct place for the debate over the question of responsibility for the tragic event is not in the criminal arena, but in the public and parliamentary arena,” wrote Weinstein.

Lindenstrauss already alerted the government last week that his original probe into the fire – in which Netanyahu asked him to offer a professional opinion – would be expanded to the level of a full state comptroller’s report on the tragedy.

Earlier Monday, the Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni (UTJ) promised that his committee would “keep a close watch on the progress regarding compensation for those who suffered in the Carmel blaze.”

During a hearing on compensation for the fire victims, Deputy State Controller Oshik Ben-Attar said that the state would act to compensate the victims, but that people who were irresponsible and did not take out insurance will not get the same levels of compensation as those who did.

“This is a message that the state wants to pass on to its citizens, although everybody will receive compensation,” explained Ben-Attar.

Israel Bar Association representative Rami Aryeh said that the state should create a regular formula for compensating victims of national tragedies, as opposed to local tragedies, in which the question of whether or not a victim was insured should be a factor.

Aryeh noted that tax assessors labored intensively following the Second Lebanon War to assess damages, but complained that the law does not allow similar compensation for fires.
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