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Defense sources yesterday severely criticized the Dan cooperative bus company for its failure to reinforce enough buses in the territories. The sources said had Dan not put so many obstacles in the way of bullet-proofing vehicles, the number of unprotected buses used in the territories would have been significantly reduced.

Dan has ten bullet-proof buses on its West Bank lines considered high risk, mostly in the Ariel and Shomron area. The sources said the defense establishment and Dan agreed in April to deploy another 11 reinforced buses and the necessary funds were found. The vehicles were sent to Hargaz factory to be fitted with the protective layer.

The competing Mirkavim factory then offered a better price and Dan canceled the order with Hargaz. This outraged the defense ministry because of the significant delay introduced - the buses were to be in use by the middle of 2001 but as the year draws to a close, there is no sign of them. "Now they are trying to place the blame for their failure on someone else," said one source.

Under directives issued by the IDF's Central Command, only bullet-proof public transport is allowed on the road near Emmanuel where yesterday's attack took place. These orders are meant to be enforced by the transport commissioner at the Transportation Ministry, but it seems the guidelines were not adhered to. A number of people were aware of the breach of orders, including IDF officers and Defense Ministry officials.

The sources said that unlike Dan, Egged bus company has shown "much responsibility throughout the conflict in the territories. They act on new orders and make sure their lines are protected."

Anat Cygielman adds:

A spokesman for Dan, Itzik Cagan, yesterday refused to give any response to the charges. "Such arguments are inappropriate at this time," he said.

The Transport Ministry last night announced it would hasten the reinforcement of the 11 buses. Only 10 of the 47 buses deployed by Dan in the territories are bullet-proof. The rest have been reinforced against stones and Molotov cocktails.