Jerusalem: Angry relatives of 42 Israelis killed in a huge forest fire last month forced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop his speech on Wednesday at a ceremony honouring the dead.
Family members shouted that he should be held responsible for the handling of the disaster response. Others directed their anger at Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who was escorted out of the hall. Firefighting services are part of his ministry.
Israel's firefighting services were unprepared for the huge fire, which destroyed swaths of forest in Israel's north. Since Israel lacked any suitable aircraft, Netanyahu had to appeal for help from abroad. Several nations, including the United States, sent firefighting planes that helped douse the blaze after four days.
During Wednesday's disturbance, bodyguards rushed toward the podium and formed a line to keep people away from Netanyahu.
Relatives yelled at him to resign and called the ceremony a disgrace. They objected to his attempt to identify with their personal pain without taking responsibility for the tragedy.
"We will find out the truth. We will not rest until we find out the truth," shouted one man from the crowd.
Netanyahu had to stop talking for several minutes while security officers restored order.
Among those who heckled Netanyahu was Danny Rosen, the partner of Israel's highest-ranking female police officer, Ahuva Tomer, the police chief of the northern city of Haifa. She was killed when flames enveloped a bus she was accompanying. It was carrying prison service workers toward a jail, where they were sent to evacuate prisoners.
The flames reached the outskirts of Haifa, Israel's third-largest city.
Netanyahu has attended a number of functions and meetings of officials in the aftermath of the fire, by far the largest forest fire in Israel's history.
First Published: Thursday, January 06, 2011, 11:45