Benjamin Netanyahu fire - Gil Eliyahu - 2.12.2010
Benjamin Netanyahu during a briefing on the Carmel fire, Dec. 2, 2010. Photo by Gil Eliyahu
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided on Sunday night to attend a plenum discussion on Monday about the state of the country's firefighting services which will be attended by some of the relatives of the Carmel forest fire victims, after criticism was leveled at him following reports that he was considering not attending the meeting.

The Prime Minister's office reported on Sunday night that Netanyahu and the committee's chairman, Kadima MK Yoel Hasson, spoke on Sunday evening and agreed that the prime minister would attend the plenum session.

According to the report, Hasson agreed that the discussion would be respectful, to the point and without disturbances, as is befitting an important meeting with guests in attendance. Netanyahu accepted Hasson's suggestion to hold a pre-plenum meeting in his office with the bereaved families.

Netanyahu was invited to the plenum discussion hosted by the State Control Committee, but his office expressed concern on Sunday that Hasson would use the bereaved families as a weapon against the prime minister and turn the discussion into an opportunity to criticize him for the state of the fire services before the blaze.

Relatives of Carmel forest fire victims had criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier on Sunday night after hearing report that he was considering avoiding the plenum discussion. "If Bibi does not attend it will be very disappointing," said Nava Boker, whose husband, police officer Lior Boker, died in the blaze. "I hope he will change his mind and attend."

Hasson told Haaretz that half of the bereaved families have already indicated that they would attend Monday's discussion.

According to Hasson, the Prime Minister's office instructed the Prison Services via the Public Security Ministry not to notify the families of the session. Hasson said he managed to gain access to the contact phone numbers of the families via round-about means in order to invite them.

Hasson said the State Control Committee approached families of fallen police and fire servicemen last Tuesday, and requested that the Prison Services invite families of those killed in the bus, but that the Prison Services failed to pass that invitation on to the families.

Sources in the Prime Minister's Office had said on Sunday that Netanyahu would be willing to attend the discussion only if a small number of family members attend, and would boycott if Hasson fails to scale back the size of the delegation.

"It's a transparent political trick on Hasson's part: If Netanyahu attends the session he'll be ambushed by outraged relatives; if he doesn't, he'll be slammed by the public," one MK had said yesterday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Hasson had denied claims that the discussion would be used as a political trick and said he would insist the debate remain "national."