Fire aftermath - Tal Cohen - Dec. 4, 2010
The aftermath of the Carmel wildfire at the Beit Oren Guest House on Dec. 4, 2010. Photo by Tal Cohen
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday ordered the Finance Ministry to grant immediate compensation to families whose homes were burnt in the Carmel fire over the weekend.

Netanyahu convened a meeting with the directors general of every government ministry to discuss rehabilitation and compensation in the aftermath of the worst wildfire in Israel's history.

The premier ordered the director general of the Finance Ministry to budget NIS 2,500 in compensation for each member of families whose houses had burned. The funds are designated for purchase of basic and urgent necessities, such as clothing, shoes and school supplies for children.

The grant will be given to families who are unable to return to their houses within the next month due to severe damages.

Netanyahu ordered the directors general to make immediate moves toward improving the situation in the region, adding that they should "cut the bureaucracy and find effective and expedient solutions by thinking outside the box".

The cabinet on Sunday approved an emergency aid package of NIS 60 million to assist communities affected by the Mount Carmel fire. A disagreement between the Finance Ministry and the Prime Ministry's Office, however, prevented the immediate disbursement of the funds.

Treasury officials have voiced opposition to Netanyahu's instructions to provide monetary compensation to all victims of the fire. In particular, they say that giving compensation to individuals without fire insurance would encourage people not to take it out in the future, on the assumption that in any event the state will come to their aid.

In a meeting with Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and senior treasury officials Sunday, Netanyahu emphasized that all necessary assistance should be given to affected residents and communities.

"I don't want delays or bureaucracy. I want all the people who were evacuated to be able to return to their lives as soon as possible," Netanyahu said.

Sources close to the prime minister said he was infuriated by the reservations raised by Finance Ministry officials.

Associates also reported that he instructed the treasury to consider extending further compensation as needed. The PMO said that Netanyahu asked Steinitz to submit, within four days, a map of the damage caused by the fire, and information concerning the governmental and private insurance coverage in the affected areas, and to submit four days later an outline for providing speedy and efficient payment of insurance benefits, as well as compensation for damages not covered by insurance.

In other government decisions related to the fire, it was decided to provide mobile homes to people whose homes were destroyed or made uninhabitable as a result of the blaze, and to expand welfare services in the affected areas.

The cabinet also resolved to commission a comprehensive plan for the rehabilitation of the vegetation and animals hurt by the fire, including the Hai-Bar Nature Reserve.

On Thursday, Netanyahu announced his intention to declare a national day of mourning for the victims of the fire, but he has stopped talking about the matter. Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov, who is also chairman of the Ministerial Committee for Ceremonies and Symbols, does not support the idea, which was not even raised at Sunday's meeting of the committee.

Misezhnikov seeks to draft a plan within a week for commemorating the victims through stamp and state medallion issues, as well as activities in the state school system.