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4 Guilty in Israel Bridge Collapse

June 5, 2000

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ Four of five officials found guilty of negligence in the collapse of a footbridge at the 1997 Maccabiah Games were sentenced to prison terms Monday. Four Australian athletes died in the bridge collapse.

The Maccabiah Games bring Jewish athletes from around the world to Israel for competitions and festivities every four years, and are known as the Jewish Olympics.

On July 14, 1997, athletes were to enter a stadium for a gala opening ceremony, by way of a bridge over the polluted Yarkon River. The bridge buckled, dumping the Australian delegation into the river. Four athletes were killed and more than 70 injured.

The engineer who designed the bridge, Micha Bar-Ilan, was sentenced to 21 months in prison. The contractors who built the rickety footbridge, Baruch Karagula and Yehoshua Ben-Ezra, were sentenced to 15 months, and the organizer who hired them, Adam Mishori, received a 6-month sentence.

The fifth defendant, Maccabiah Games chairman Yoram Eyal, was sentenced to six months of community service.

Many athletes who fell into the river were infected by the polluted waters.

One is Sasha Elterman, 18, who ingested a poison fungus. She has undergone more than 30 operations and is still seriously ill. Born in Los Angeles, she has dual American-Australian citizenship. Her father, Colin, has led a public struggle to force officers of the Maccabi World Union to accept responsibility for the tragedy.

Elterman called the sentences an ``absolute disgrace.″ He said the minimum prison term in Australia would have been four years in prison. He called on Israelis to boycott the next Maccabiah games and its sponsors to protest the light sentences.

Finding the five guilty April 17, a three-judge panel from the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court found that the bridge was built without a proper plan, without a foundation and without supervision, using substandard materials.

Much of the court’s criticism was aimed at Bar-Ilan, who teaches engineering at an Israeli university, but designed a bridge that was doomed to collapse and did not supervise the construction, according to the court ruling.

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