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ANGRY CROWD FORCES ISRAELI PM TO HALT SPEECH

By NBF News
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ANGRY relatives of 42 Israelis killed in a huge forest fire last month have forced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop his speech at a ceremony honoring 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.

The Reuters news agency said that during the 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.

Meanwhile, a U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks has quoted American officials as saying a key Israeli cargo crossing for goods entering the Gaza Strip was rife with corruption.

The June 14, 2006, cable, published yesterday by Norway's Aftenposten daily, says major American companies told U.S. diplomats they were forced to pay hefty bribes to get goods into Gaza.

It quoted a Coca-Cola executive as saying he was asked to pay more than $3,000 to get a truckload of merchandise through. The executive claimed an unidentified 'high-level official' at the crossing headed the corruption ring.

The alleged corruption occurred a year before Hamas overran Gaza and Israel imposed an economic blockade.

Separately, Netanyahu has promised to discuss Middle East peacemaking with Egypt's leader, as well as the common threat posed by Iranian-backed militant groups.

Netanyahu said Gaza-based Hamas militants and Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas want to 'disturb the quiet' but 'we will not let them.'

Both groups have warred with Israel. Egypt is worried by their Islamic militancy and Iranian ties.

Netanyahu said in a statement that he and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak would also discuss stalemated Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at their meeting.

The Palestinians say they will not resume talks without a complete freeze in settlement building.

Israel rejects that demand.