Yishai appears before fire panel, Aharonovitch absent

“I admit that we did not add enough funds to the fire services,” Interior Minister Eli Yishai told MKs. “I am not fleeing from responsibility."

December 14, 2010 01:50
2 minute read.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai

Eli Yishai 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file[)

The fires on the Carmel may have been extinguished, but a verbal firestorm erupted Monday in the Knesset’s Interior Committee, when MKs and government officials met to discuss the blaze earlier this month that left 43 dead.

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who was initially expected to participate in the hearing, sent in his stead a senior ministry official, explaining that the minister was meeting with the Israel Prisons Service classmates of the cadets who burned to death during the fire.

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“It is very unfortunate that the minister who was the person responsible throughout the incident on the Carmel did not attend,” said committee chairman MK David Azoulai (Shas). “I hope that the people who he sent can give us the necessary answers.”

Although ministry officials said that the committee was alerted Thursday that Aharonovitch would not attend the meeting, Azoulai said that had he known in advance, he would have delayed the hearing until the minister could be there.

“I admit that we did not add enough funds to the fire services,” Interior Minister Eli Yishai told MKs. “I am not fleeing from responsibility. Why else would I say that an investigative commission should be established?” Yishai reiterated his claims that he alone, of all recent interior ministers, had worked to improve the funding for the chronically underbudgeted Fire and Rescue Service.

“I don’t know of any minister who preceded me in the Interior Ministry or in any other ministry who sent out warnings and letters and also managed to get results in the end,” he said.

Union of Local Authorities Chairman Shlomo Buhbut, however, rejected Yishai’s claims that he had effected a change in the government’s budget for fire services.

“I don’t understand how the State of Israel manages to fool its MKs and the media. When they talk about adding NIS 100 million to the Fire Services budget, did anybody ask where they money is coming from?” complained Buhbut.

“Not from the Treasury – instead, NIS 60 million is coming from the local governments and another NIS 30 million from the Interior Ministry – which is also essentially from local governments. This is a joke, because the local governments don’t have money.”

Shimon Buhbut, the Public Security Ministry’s top representative at the meeting, said that the IPS and the police are currently reviewing the decision to send a bus of IPS cadets into the fire in order to help evacuate the Damon Prison. Fire Commissioner Shimon Romach said that fire service never received a report that the IPS bus was traveling up the road toward the prison.

Romach also told panel members that the first fire truck had reached the scene of the blaze 16 minutes after receiving the first emergency call, at 11:09 a.m.

“The distance should not have taken 16 minutes, but the vehicle was old and thus took longer to reach the scene,” Romach claimed, and said that the first team on the scene immediately alerted other area fire fighters to the blaze.

Romach said that “Air fire-fighting is significant, but that system alone cannot completely extinguish a fire. The combination of ground-based and aerial efforts led to the extinguishing of the fire.”

MKs were not satisfied by the responses they heard, and MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) suggested that they disband the hearing “because nobody is answering any questions.”

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