Amona panel starts talks on recommendations [pg. 5]

What began with dramatic accusations and threats ended with a quiet closed-door conference Thursday as the Knesset's Amona inquiry committee, its hearings completed, began deliberations on its final recommendations, with an official decision on them expected next week. The committee's formation had attracted considerable attention. Left-wing MKs decried the investigation as a "witch hunt for security officials to blame," and the Right demanded that the committees' findings be taken up in a national investigation. The well-attended meetings also stirred controversy as security officials demanded to appear in lieu of their subordinates who had been present during the evacuations. MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) who headed the committee, called the move an "insult to the Knesset and democracy." "There will not be an official decision until next week," said MK Matan Vilna'i (Labor) who sits on the three-member panel with Uri Ariel (National Union-NRP) and Ilan Shalgi (Chetz). Vilna'i, whose party voted against the establishment of the committee, claimed that the "pomp and circumstance" surrounding the meetings only proved that the investigation was a political tool by the right-wing parties ahead of elections. "The whole 'investigation' was meant to slander the police forces and was a campaign for the right wing," said Vilna'i. Ariel, however, who was present during the Amona evacuation, hinted that the committee might ask to reprimand security officials who had acted inappropriately during the evacuation. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz, chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra, Police Inspector-General Moshe Karadi, Shin Bet security service chief Yuval Diskin and OC Central Command Yair Naveh have appeared before the committee, along with a number of settlers who were present at Amona. The committee has rushed its hearings to reach a preliminary decision ahead of the March 28 elections. The committee must seek the approval of the next Knesset to continue meeting. Olmert has already stated he will not support reconvening the committee after the elections.