Relatives of the Carmel fire victims yesterday accosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with questions and grievances about the disaster in December, blaming the cabinet's faulty performance for causing the death of their loved ones.
Netanyahu told them the Israel Fire and Rescue Services has been transferred from the Interior Ministry to the Public Security Ministry, and that an airborne firefighting force will begin operating in May.
Speaking at a meeting of the State Control Committee, the victims' relatives said their questions have gone unanswered and they have lost confidence in the leadership's ability to prevent the next catastrophe.
Israel is not safe in the current leadership's hands, said Danny Rosen, the life partner of late Haifa police chief Ahuva Tomer.
Tomer and 43 others were killed in a massive fire that swept across a large area of the Carmel in December, leading to calls for a dramatic overhaul of the country's fire service.
"Israel's security is in the hands of four people - the failing [Interior Minister] Eli Yishai, the evasive, disregarding [Finance Minister] Yuval Steinitz, the out-of-touch [Defense Minister] Ehud Barak and the procrastinating prime minister," Rosen said.
To soften the bereaved families' protests, Netanyahu met with some of them before the committee discussed the state comptroller's report on the fire service. But the families were outraged to find that those among them with the harshest criticism had been left out of the gathering.
New airborne squadron
Netanyahu tried to focus the meeting with the families on the new airborne firefighting squadron being established.
"The current fire services are inadequate, and provided no solution to the problem we encountered in the Carmel fire. The main problem is airborne firefighting services," the prime minister said. He added that the new squadron will begin working in May with five of seven hired planes to be received next month.
Israel has been put on the waiting list to purchase planes from a Canadian company, which will be available in about three years, Netanyahu explained.
He also said the Public Security Ministry will now be in charge of the fire services instead of the Interior Ministry, and promised the cabinet would allocate all the required resources, according to Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch's demands.
Aharonovitch, who also attended yesterday's discussion, said the new fire service will be equipped with at least 2,130 firefighters, along with new fire trucks and personal equipment.
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss said 30 of his men were investigating the Carmel fire and his office intends to release its conclusions in about four months.
The prime minister said he had asked to meet with all of the victims' families, and did not know why only some of them had attended the session.
"I told the families there that the word 'rehabilitation' was misleading, as a real rehabilitation is impossible. To be a part of a bereaved family is to be disabled without any visible scars," Netanyahu said.
Addressing the families, the prime minister said that both he and they know that there is no real solution for "whatever you are feeling inside," adding that the "real purpose of the discussion was to determine what can be done so that such a disaster would not befall others."
On Sunday Netanyahu announced his intention to attend the discussion, even though many relatives of the Carmel forest fire victims were to be present and despite his aides' fears that State Control Committee chairman MK Yoel Hasson (Kadima ) would use the bereaved families to attack the premier.
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