SENIOR Israeli officials believe it is unlikely that sabotage caused Sunday's crash of an Israeli cargo jet into two Amsterdam apartment blocks, although they have not ruled it out.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said yesterday that two separate Israeli investigations into the incident would examine "every possible cause" for the crash, which turned an Amsterdam neighborhood into an inferno, killing some 200 Dutch residents. Three Israeli crew members and the jet's single passenger also died in the crash.
Top Israeli officials said privately yesterday that the double engine failure in the El Al Boeing 747-200F, while a highly unusual occurrence, probably was not the work of saboteurs. The possibility of sabotage was immediately raised because El Al, Israel's national airline, has long been threatened with terrorist attack. The destruction of an Israeli airliner would have had an unpredictable impact the Arab-Israeli peace process.
One Israeli press report, however, said the cargo jet had a history of mechanical problems. The plane was forced to make an emergency landing in New York three years ago after a computer panel in the cockpit broke down, according to the mass circulation Hebrew daily Maariv.
Thse allegations were sharply denied by El Al officials, who held a special midnight press conference on Sunday.
Airline officials said yesterday that the plane's cargo included perfume, electronic equipment, textiles, and machinery.
A Dutch newspaper questioned yesterday why the plane was allowed to attempt a return to the airport over a densely populated suburb. The area is home to many of Amsterdam's poor immigrants.
Sunday evening, Israelis watched extensive footage of the fires touched off by the crash broadcast on prime-time television. Special radio and television bulletins gave updates on casualties and rescue efforts for the next 24 hours.
Prime Minister Rabin, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and President Chaim Herzog all sent telegrams of condolences to their Dutch counterparts and offered emergency assistance.
Mr. Peres said that Israelis were particularly upset that the disaster had occurred in Holland, with whom Israel has maintained close ties following Dutch efforts to save Jews from Nazi hands in World War II.
Israeli Foreign Ministry officials dismissed concerns that the crash might damage bilateral ties. "It's a terrible catastrophe to a country so beloved and so close to us," Peres said. "And there are no words that can offer real comfort."