The Israel Police held its annual commendations ceremony Wednesday, honoring officers for exemplary service and paying special homage to the three senior police officers who perished in December's Carmel fire.
Haifa Police Commander Brigadier-General Ahuva Tomer, Head of the Northern Police Operations Branch Commander Lior Boker and Commander Yitzchak Melina of the Haifa District Police, were awarded posthumous commendations of valor for their actions during the deadliest fire in Israel's history, which claimed 40 lives.
Families accept awards on behalf of officers (Photo: Noam Moscowitz)
The decision to honor the fallen officers sparked controversy, as the commission on inquiry into the emergency services' response to the fire – which raged for four days and nights, forced the evacuation of nearly 17,000 people and consumed 8,650 acres, 1,000 of which a natural forest – has yet to submit its findings.
The majority of the fatalities in the fire were Prison Service cadets, sent to help with a search and rescue mission in the Carmel Forest. They perished when the roaring fire engulfed their bus. The families of the victims filed an appeal with the High Court of Justice, asking it to order the police to withhold any commendations from the officers involved in the fire pending the inquiry's results.
The petition was denied and the families decided to hold their own ceremony, in protest. The ceremony was held in Kibbutz Beit Oren, which suffered devastating fire damage.
Honoring exemplary service
The Police Commissioner's Commendation for a unit was awarded to the Special Weapons And Tactics unit (SWAT), whose officers "carried hundreds of operations, fighting terror and criminal elements alike, at considerable risked to their own lives," said a Police statement.
"The unit operated against terror infrastructure nation wide, thwarting numerous attacks which could have claimed many lives. Its action brought about the arrest of many wanted individuals and the confiscation of weapons."
The Police Commissioner's Commendation for individual action was awarded to Senior Staff Sergeant Major Eli Gattenio, of the Coastal Subdistrict Police Bomb Squad, who – faced with a car bomb parked in a Haifa mall, and devoid the ability to immediately evacuate the premises – single-handedly diffused the explosives, without waiting for the squad's bomb disposal robot, as usually done in such cases.
Staff Sergeant Major Matti Sheleg, of the Galilee Central Control Unit, Sergent Major Shinon Ben Shoshan of the Rosh Ha'ayin Police were awarded a citation of exemplary service for respectively apprehending armed suspects and preventing mass casualty events.
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