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Illnesses 'caused by El Al jet crash'

AN OFFICIAL report on the 1992 crash of an El Al jet into a block of flats in Amsterdam has found a "direct link" between the crash and the medical problems of residents of the suburb where the cargo plane came down.

The Israeli government admitted last year that the cargo included chemicals used in the production of the deadly nerve gas sarin.

Severe criticism was levelled in the report at senior ministers in Prime Minister Wim Kok's government for their handling of the affair. A number of ministers have already said they will not stand down but MPs may order a vote of confidence to force them out when they debate the findings in a few weeks.

In its damning 2,000-page final report the parliamentary commission that investigated the crash said the government had failed to pass on "crucial information to those with administrative responsibility". The five-member investigating panel had been asked to look into the facts surrounding the disaster, which unfolded when the cargo plane ploughed into a tower block in the suburb of Bijlmer, killing at least 43 people.

The crash was the worst air disaster in Dutch history. It happened on a Sunday evening when many people were at home watching a football game on television. Such was the impact of the crash and the intense fire started by it that some victims were incinerated within seconds.

Campaigners had hoped that yesterday's report would put to rest many of the unanswered questions surrounding the crash. Why, for example, was the black box from the aircraft never recovered, and who were the men in white boilersuits who appeared moments after the crash? Many people suspect they were from Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, and were taking away debris that might have pointed to the presence of chemical weapons ingredients on board.

The inquiry team failed to find evidence of a political cover-up of the aircraft's cargo. Six years have been spent trying to establish exactly what was on board but the commission said it was satisfied the entire load was now accounted for.

But it said the blazecreated a toxic cocktail of gases and smoke particles such as sulphur dioxide and hydrochloric acid. During the smouldering phase, which lasted several hours, dioxins formed and toxic substances were released. "The commission does not exclude that individuals have suffered chronic health complaints," the report said.

The Dutch government has long been accused of playing down the medical complaints of people in the area whose ailments have included chronic respiratory conditions. Yesterday Bijlmer residents said they felt vindicated and demanded that ministerial heads should roll. "They have made mistakes and they have to go," said one middle-aged man near the crash site.

The report said large numbers of inhabitants and rescue workers were unlikely to have suffered uranium poisoning but it could not rule out that under specific circumstances some individuals inhaled uranium oxide. Nearly 200 witnesses testified, including Mr Kok and members of his cabinet.