Families of Fire Victims Say Police to Blame

Families demanding state comptroller's final report on the Carmel fire assign blame to police officials who commanded a rescue operation in which a bus was sent to evacuate Damon Prison.

Bereaved families are insisting that senior police officers be held responsible for the 2010 Carmel tragedy in which 41 people died after their bus was engulfed in flames.

The families of the victims are demanding that the state comptroller's final report on the deadly December 2010 Carmel fire assign blame to the police officials who commanded a rescue operation in which a bus was sent to evacuate Damon Prison. The bus was incinerated after a fallen tree blocked its path.

The first draft of a report issued by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss several months ago assigned personal blame for the incident to three senior police officials - Maj.-Gen. Shimon Koren, who has since retired; Maj.-Gen. Ronni Atiya, who served at the time as Coastal District police commander; and the commander of the police Airborne Unit, Cmdr. Noam Adar.

In his second draft, released this weekend, Lindenstrauss called for Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz to be removed from their posts. However, he went somewhat easier on the police in the field.

Olga Ohana - whose son Kfir, was among the 41 fallen - said the "bus tragedy was the result of conduct during the disaster itself."

"The ones who have to pay for that are the police officers who were in the field," Ohana said. "The police's lack of professionalism and miscalculations caused the disaster."

Sima Yifrah, whose daughter Ayala was killed on the bus, agreed.

"It's a mistake to put more focus on the political echelon," she said. "You have to talk about those on the performance side, too. I don't think just ministers are at fault. I also expect heads to roll in the police."

Over the past few weeks, police Northern District spokesman Ch.-Supt. Yehuda Maman has given several briefings to the media in an attempt to convince the public that there was no blunder on the part of police. Several senior police retirees have also made statements publicly supporting their former colleagues.

Members of six bereaved families met last week with Lindenstrauss, asking him not to minimize the role of the senior officers in his final report.

"We differentiate between the fire and the bus disaster," said Natan Tzadki, whose son-in-law Yaron Barami was killed on the bus. "What interests us is that the ones who should really get hit in this report are whoever gave the orders in the police and Prison Service, because they're to blame."