Middle East

Benjamin Netanyahu heckled at Israel fire memorial

Fire memorial at the Beit Oren kibbutz, 5 Jan
Image caption Mr Netanyahu (far right) gestures as a heckler approaches

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has been heckled at a memorial service for those who died in the country's worst-ever wildfire last month.

Victims' relatives forced him to halt his speech commemorating 42 people who died in Carmel forest, north of Haifa.

But bodyguards shielded him from hecklers at the Beit Oren kibbutz.

Most of the abuse was directed at Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who many relatives consider responsible for failures in handling the blaze.

'God's punishment'

The husband of a policewoman who died in the fire told Mr Netanyahu as he was about to speak: "[Mr Yishai] is the minister responsible, according to all the reports of the state comptroller he never lifted a finger, and this disaster happened because of him.

"I am asking you to take him out of the ceremony... either you take him out or else I will leave."

Others shouted that Mr Netanyahu should be held responsible and called for him to resign.

Mr Netanyahu's speech was held up for several minutes as Mr Yishai left the hall under escort.

On resuming, Mr Netanyahu said: "My heart is with you all."

Many of the victims of the fire were trainee prison officers who were going to evacuate 500 inmates to safety from Damon Prison, on the edge of the forest.

The fire destroyed more than 12,300 acres (5,000 hectares) of land, more than five million trees and 74 buildings.

Close to 17,000 people were evacuated from homes, hospitals and prisons.

The spiritual leader of Mr Yishai's ultra-Orthodox Jewish party, Shas, suggested at the time that the forest fire was punishment from God for religious offences committed by those living in the Carmel region.

Mr Yishai defended the rabbi, saying he had spoken "with pain" about the tragedy.

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