TEL AVIV (Jan. 25)
Chief of Staff Chaim Bar Lev has named a special investigating committee to inquire into yesterday’s ammunition truck explosion at Eilat harbor which killed 18 Israeli soldiers and civilians and wounded 42, about half of them seriously. Army authorities announced early today that the blast “without any doubt occurred as a result of an accident.” The announcement, contained in a special bulletin issued shortly after midnight, was obviously intended to refute claims by El Fatah, the Palestinian guerrilla organization, that it was responsible. The explosion, the most costly in Israeli history, occurred at 4:30 p.m. local time as a truck filled with arms and ammunition was being unloaded at the military harbor, about a half mile north of Eilat’s commercial port area.
There was no official explanation of where the ammunition came from or where it was going. It is generally believed that the explosives were part of a large haul of arms and ammunition which Israeli forces seized on Shadwan, an Egyptian island in the mouth of the Gulf of Suez, on Friday. Eye-witness accounts said that Army and civilian medics were on the scene within minutes of the explosion removing the dead and wounded. The most seriously injured were evacuated by helicopter to hospitals in the north. Others were treated in the local hospital where hundreds of Eilat residents queued up to donate blood. The military harbor was cordoned off as Israeli sappers searched for unexploded shells and mines scattered in the area.
As some of the wounded men were brought into Tel Hashomer Hospital near Tel Aviv, Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Dayan was on hand to greet them and hear their accounts of the disaster. The Knesset meanwhile cancelled its 21st anniversary celebrations due to have taken place tomorrow night as the nation mourned the Eilat dead. Military authorities released the names of 16 of the dead today. They are: Pvt. First Class Falek Yoram, 19, of Merhavia; Nain Bzadya, 24, of Kiryat Atta; Deutch Lev, 55, of Haifa; Capt. Jacob Barak, 33, of Eilat; Sgt. Maj. Harari Yehouda, 33, of Eilat; Sgt. Maj. Yaacob Israel, 25, of Eilat; Corp. Zeev Bogatch, 23, of Holon; Corp. Baruc Samoka, and Corp. Yaacov Cohen, both of Acre; Corp. Sasson Nazaioff, 20, of Jerusalem; Capt. Shaul Nagar, 32. of Petach Tikvah; Menachem Menashe, 48, of Haifa and Corp. Simhah Brenner, 19, of Shderot.