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The war of words between the finance and interior ministries over the shortcomings in Israel's firefighting readiness escalated yesterday. Rebutting Interior Minister Eli Yishai's claim that he had asked for more money for the firefighting services, treasury sources say the government had approved NIS 100 million for the cause in July, but Interior hadn't spent a single shekel of the money.

Moreover, ministers constantly send letters warning of disaster if millions, tens of millions or more are allocated to their cause du jour, said a treasury official. All they're doing is covering their rears, he said.

"The firefighting service in Israel is rotten and everybody knows it. The treasury has said time and again that reform, a national fire service, is needed. We at the treasury said 'carry out the reform and we'll pay,' but the firefighting corporations were comfortable with the status quo," said a treasury source. "The firemen are on duty for 24 hours, then off duty for 48. They earn a respectable wage. Why go off for 48 hours? So they can do other work." The Interior Ministry denied the treasury's allegations.