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Experts: Hall Supports Not Removed

Experts investigating the collapse of a Jerusalem wedding hall last week have ruled out the widely reported theory that supporting walls had been removed from the floor below, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Israeli media reports have said there may have been negligence in the original 1986 construction of the four-story building, and that a supporting column was removed in renovations three months ago.

The paper said it had obtained documents written by city engineers that said tests conducted at the site have proved that "no constructive elements where removed from the hall prior to its collapse."

The joyous party, moments before the collapse
Twenty-three people were killed and more than 300 were injured last week when a packed dance floor buckled without warning soon after the bride and groom exchanged vows. It was the biggest civilian disaster in Israel's history.

Meanwhile, a subcontractor arrested Tuesday told authorities he realized that the "Pal-Call" flooring method was substandard and did not meet safety standards, and that he told the method's inventor, Eli Ron, for whom he worked between 1983 and 1990.

"What stood in front of our eyes was the economic gain in using these materials," Uri Pessah said. He is the eleventh suspect arrested in the case.

The method, which uses metal plates and thinner layers of cement in ceilings, was barred in 1996.

Shoddy construction by contractors looking to cut costs is considered endemic in Israel, where for years a disregard for building and safety codes has gone largely unchecked.

"It is my intention to change these practices," Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told a news conference Tuesday after setting up a commission to look into the disaster, adding that the wedding hall collapse shows a wide cultural syndrome, not just a one-time construction failure.

"Unfortunately, we are in a situation that in addition to the steep price we pay from security reasons, we also pay a heavy and needless price as a result of a disregard for law and order."

The city of Jerusalem Tuesday also ordered the closure of another banquet hall, after city workers discovered that a supporting wall had been removed. The hall manager denied that any supporting columns had been removed and accused the municipality of over-reacting to the accident.

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