Official Inquiry Finds NO LINK-Read This

Panel: No Connection Between Divers' Cancer And River Pollution

JERUSALEM (AP) -- An official inquiry found no evidence that pollution caused cancer in at least 40 of 750 members of an elite navy unit forced to make training dives in a river laden with toxic chemicals.

The report, released Monday, said there was no proof pollution in the Kishon River made the divers sick. At least two dozen of those who contracted cancer have died.

The three-member commission was split. The head of the panel, retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Meir Shamgar, wrote the minority opinion, saying he found a link between river pollution and cancer. In 1996, Shamgar led the investigation of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin a year earlier.

The panel recommended the army recognize the cancer-stricken divers as wounded veterans, making them eligible for compensation. The army said it accepted the committee's findings and would review the recommendations.

The Kishon River and the adjacent Haifa Bay are lined by chemical companies that have been pouring toxic waste into the water for decades. While pollution levels have dropped in recent years, the river is still considered a health hazard, with signs along its banks prohibiting swimming.

Army training sessions in the river stopped in 1990, and since then only crucial underwater missions have been carried out.

The inquiry's findings were criticized by retired army generals and other officials. A front-page banner headline in one of Israel's largest newspapers, Maariv, read Tuesday: "Humiliation of the Fighters."

An interim report released earlier by the committee had found that the army, for several generations, had turned a blind eye to the dangers to divers.

"No one today, or ever will again, dive in the Kishon River. Therefore, those who were in these terrible waters deserve to be embraced by the country that sent them into it," read a front-page column in the Yediot Ahronot daily Tuesday.

Thanks to Associated Press and Intelihealth.com, 4/03

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