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Thursday, April 22, 1999 Published at 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK

World: Europe

El Al crash linked to illnesses

At least 43 died as the plane crashed into a residential building

A report into the 1992 crash of an El Al cargo plane into a block of flats in Amsterdam has found a "direct link" with subsequent health problems in the area.

The BBC's Leon Hawthorne: "For years Dutch people have suspected a cover up"
It also blasted the Dutch Government for its handling of the disaster and criticised the Israeli carrier for failing to co-operate with crash investigators.

On 4 October 1992, the El Al Boeing 747 ploughed into an apartment building in the poor, high-rise Amsterdam suburb of Bijlmer shortly after take-off, killing at least 43 people.

The real death toll may never be known, because the area housed many unregistered immigrants.

Chemicals released

Hundreds of people, ranging from rescue workers to local residents, have since complained of illness, including nausea and neurological problems.

The Dutch parliamentary committee investigating the crash published its final report on Thursday, although many details were leaked in advance of publication.

The BBC's Gillian Sharpe: "This really is the final word"
The report, which took six months to compile with more than 80 witnesses interviewed, found that there was no reason to disbelieve El Al's description of the aircraft's cargo as mundane.

Last year, the Israeli Government confirmed Dutch newspaper reports that up to 190 litres of the chemical DMMP - which can be used to make sarin nerve gas - was on board, but said that it was non-toxic.

But the report says that toxic substances were released during the ensuing fire, including sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide, metals and dioxins.

In addition, only 152 kg of 282 kg of depleted uranium used as ballast in the Boeing's wings was recovered after the crash and fire.

'Unclear, late or incorrect information'

The 2,000-page report said: "There is a direct link between health complaints and the Bijlmer disaster."

Ministers, aviation authorities and civil servants were all criticised for their roles in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Deputy Prime Ministers Els Borst - also health minister - and Annemarie Jorritsma - also transport minister - were both harshly criticised for failing to provide adequate information to Parliament and the public.

The committee found: "The number of occasions when Parliament received unclear, incomplete, late or incorrect information is, in the commission's opinion, too high.

"The government paid too little attention to public worries, even those that were based on misconceptions."

Both ministers said they would resign if it was found that they had failed in any way. It remains to be seen if either will go.

The commission also confirmed press speculation that Labour Prime Minister Wim Kok would be criticised for failing in his co-ordinating role.

El Al was cleared of falsifying freight papers, but the inquiry found the airline's failure to co-operate fully "incomprehensible"

This was especially so "given the public concern in the Netherlands over the past six-and-a-half years, the requests for co-operation at a high diplomatic level and the bond of friendship between the Netherlands and Israel."

The authoriities hope the report will now bring to a close what one MP described as a "shameful" chapter in Dutch politics.

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