Wedding guests buried

2001-05-27 12:25

Jerusalem - Israel buried more victims Sunday of the Jerusalem wedding hall tragedy that killed 23 people as authorities widened their probe into the cause of the building collapse amid allegations of corruption and negligence.

Nine people arrested over what has been described as the nation's worst ever civil disaster have been remanded in custody, while calls mounted for the resignation of Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert.

Israel rescuers on Saturday called off a round-the-clock search of the ruins of the building in the industrial area of Talpiot, which collapsed during a wedding party on Thursday evening attended by 650 guests, sending many plunging three storeys to the ground.

Seven men arrested on manslaughter charges were remanded for another five days by a Jerusalem court at a hearing on Saturday night into the tragedy, which cost the lives of 23 people - including a three-year-old boy - and injured 300 more.

The suspects include four owners of the Versailles wedding banquet hall, the engineer and contractor who constructed the building and the inventor of a now-banned floor-ceiling system in the building.

Two other people, detained for obstruction of justice, had their remand extended by three days, Israeli radio said, adding that police would question more people involved in the disaster on Sunday.


"We have the facade of a properly run country, with the public mechanisms of Bangladesh," wrote Israeli analyst Hemi Shalev in the popular Maariv newspaper, describing the collapse as a disaster waiting to happen.

"We have the appearance of a properly run democracy, with a rotten political system which put people who are demonstrably inappropriate in charge of vital areas of our lives," he added.

The Haaretz newspaper said the disaster reflected a combination of professional negligence, illegal operations and blatant flouting of business licensing laws, and that the government was expected to decide Tuesday on a national commission of inquiry.

The tragedy struck a nation already struggling to cope with eight months of deadly Israeli-Palestinian violence and a mounting wave of bomb attacks by Palestinian militants in its major cities.

Seven of the victims were to be buried on Sunday, including a couple due to be married next month who were found among the rubble embracing each other.

General Gabi Ophir, commander of the home front which specialises in such rescue operations, had called off the search after less than 48 hours, saying that all wedding guests and workers had been accounted for and that the risk of imminent collapse of the gutted building's roof on the emergency workers was too great.

"There is nobody else in the building," Ophir said on Saturday after rescuers had worked non-stop, searching through shattered chunks of concrete and twisted metal for bodies.

He said the doomed building now passed to Jerusalem's jurisdiction, and the city authorities would demolish the building.


A video of the tragedy captured the instant when celebration turned to catastrophe, showing revellers dancing just moments before the floor disappeared beneath them and panicked guests screaming and wringing their hands.

Mayor Olmert, who has promised a full inquiry into the case, has so far resisted calls for his resignation, with the media reporting a catalogue of blunders at city hall over building regulations.

"Dozens of business establishments operate in Jerusalem without supervision, just like the Versailles hall, and the municipality, including its head, isn't running a regulation framework to guarantee safety for people who use the facilities," two opposition members on Jerusalem's city council said in a statement.

But Olmert told Maariv: "I have not thought about resigning at any time." - Sapa-AFP