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Police Commissioner Shlomo Aharonishki yesterday ordered his staff to look into legal methods of quashing criminal investigations into the deaths of the 13 Arabs killed by police gunfire during the October 2000 riots.

He is hoping to find a solution similar to that used in the "Bus 300 affair" of 1984, when senior Shin Bet security service officials responsible for the murder of two captured terrorists were preemptively pardoned by the president before even being indicted.

However, such a plan would contradict the recommendations issued by the Or Commission on Monday, following the conclusion of its three-year inquiry into the riots. The commission said that the Justice Ministry's department for investigating police should open criminal investigations into the deaths.

Aharonishki assigned the search for a legal solution to the problem to Major General Moshe Mizrahi, the head of the police investigations division, and police legal advisor, Brigadier General Anat Shefi. The two hope to complete their inquiry today or tomorrow and send a detailed proposal to Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein for approval by the end of the week. The proposal could then be discussed by the cabinet at its meeting on Sunday.

Police sources believe that the prosecution will support the proposal, since criminal investigations by the Justice Ministry are unlikely to bear fruit in any case - both because of the three years that have elapsed since the incidents took place, and because of the dearth of witnesses and evidence. Justice Ministry officials also said yesterday that the investigations are likely to prove fruitless, and State Prosecutor Edna Arbel has said in the past that as a rule, she sees no point in wasting resources on investigations that have little chance of producing indictments.

Senior police officers said yesterday that they were disappointed by the failure of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other key cabinet ministers to express support for the police in the wake of the Or Commission's report. Several were openly furious, charging that the politicians had "abandoned the operational echelon." Nevertheless, they said they were hopeful that the government would also support a bid to quash criminal investigations into the October 2000 deaths.

But while the police are viewing the Bus 300 affair as their model, police sources acknowledged yesterday that there are important differences between that affair and the October 2000 riots. In the former, pardons were arranged for senior Shin Bet officials, including then head of the service Avraham Shalom and two department heads, Yossi Ginossar and Ehud Yatom, through a joint effort involving the prime minister, the Justice Ministry and then-president Chaim Herzog. The pardons kept them from being indicted, but left them under a cloud that barred both Ginossar and Yatom from senior civil service appointments in the 1990s.

With regard to the October 2000 riots, however, there are currently no specific policemen who have been fingered as guilty: The police simply feel threatened as an organization by the planned investigations.

Furthermore, it is not clear that a Bus 300-style solution would survive a challenge in the High Court of Justice. In the Bus 300 affair, the court rejected a petition against the preemptive pardons, but it stressed that the pardons were granted in unique circumstances and do not constitute a precedent. The majority decision in the 2-1 ruling was written by then justices Meir Shamgar and Miriam Ben-Porat. The lone dissenter, Aharon Barak, is today the Supreme Court president.