NOV. 24, 2016
JERUSALEM — The Latest on the wildfires in Israel (all times local):
France says it is sending firefighting planes to Israel to help battle a series of wildfires across the country.
The French presidency said Thursday that President Francois Hollande had instructed his interior minister to dispatch three aircraft.
It says the planes will depart “as soon as possible.” They will join a multinational firefighting effort that has also included assistance from Russia, Turkey, Greece, Cyprus and Croatia.
The Palestinian Authority has offered Israel assistance in combatting raging wildfires across the country.
The offer comes as Israeli leaders are implying that Arab arsonists are behind some of the fires.
The official Palestinian news agency WAFA said Thursday that the Palestinians offered teams of firefighters to help join an international effort to extinguish the fires.
Yousef Nassar, the director general of the Palestinian Civil Defense, said the offer was “a humanitarian message.” The Palestinians assisted Israel during a deadly wildfire in 2010.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said some of the fires roaring around the country were the result of “terror,” an apparent reference to Arab or Palestinian assailants.
Some 50,000 people have been evacuated from Israel’s third-largest city Haifa, the site of the largest fires.
Israel’s prime minister is blaming “arsonists’ terror” for some of the fires raging across the country.
Speaking to reporters Thursday in Haifa, where the largest of several wildfires around the country has prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands of people, Benjamin Netanyahu said those setting the fires would be “punished severely.”
Netanyahu did not elaborate on the identity of the suspected arsonists or their motives, but Israeli officials typically use “terror” to refer to Arab or Palestinian militant activity.
Earlier, Israel’s police chief said arrests have been made, without elaborating.
Some 50,000 people have been evacuated from Haifa, Israel’s third largest city. Fires have been sparked around the country for several days, with dry, windy weather spreading the flames quickly.
Israeli police have arrested four Palestinians in connection with one of several large fires that damaged homes and prompted the evacuation of thousands of people over the past few days.
Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said on Thursday that police are investigating all possible causes, including arson. Windy and hot weather have helped fan the flames.
He says the blazes started three days ago at the Neve Shalom community near Jerusalem where Israelis and Arabs live together.
Later, fires erupted in the northern Israeli area of Zichron Yaakov and elsewhere near Jerusalem. In all, hundreds of homes have been damaged and thousands of people have been evacuated. About a dozen were treated for smoke inhalation.
Cyprus, Russia, Italy and other countries are assisting the Israeli firefighters with equipment as the fires continue.
Tens of thousands of people are being evacuated as wildfires rage through parts of Israel’s third largest city of Haifa.
The fires follow a two-month drought and are being fanned by strong winds in the north of the city.
Wildfires are also threatening homes near Jerusalem and in the West Bank.
Israel’s police chief said arson was suspected in some cases and PM Benjamin Netanyahu said any such attacks would amount to “terror”.
“Every fire that was the result of arson or incitement to arson is terror in every way and we’ll treat it as such,” he was quoted by Haaretz newspaper as saying.
“Anyone who tries to burn parts of the state of Israel will be severely punished.”
Police chief Roni Alsheich said that if fires had been started deliberately it was “safe to assume… it is politically-motivated”.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing religious Jewish Home party, also appeared to suggest Arab or Palestinian involvement in the fires, writing on Twitter: “Only those to whom the country does not belong are capable of burning it.”
On social media, the Arabic-language hashtag #Israel_on_fire began trending, with most tweets expressing pleasure over the outbreak.
Four Palestinians have been arrested in connection with a fire near Jerusalem and are due to appear in court, officials said.
The Palestinian Authority has offered to help Israel’s fire department, a senior Israeli security official told the BBC, but has not yet received a reply.
Meanwhile, hundreds of military reservists have been called up to help battle the three-day outbreak of fires.
In Haifa, about 50,000 of the city’s residents had left their homes, the city council said, and several neighbourhoods will be without electricity overnight.
People loaded up supermarket trolleys with belongings, while schools, kindergartens, universities and an old people’s hospital were evacuated.
More than 130 people have been taken to hospital with minor injuries, mainly from smoke inhalation, but most were later discharged, Haaretz reported.
Two prisons near Haifa have also been evacuated.
Further south, Highway 443 – which links Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, crossing through the West Bank – was closed to morning traffic on Thursday as another blaze reached the city of Modi’in.
Homes and cars were damaged, and 300 students were evacuated from a school in Talmon, an Israel settlement in the occupied West Bank, police said.
Firefighters have been battling fires in several locations since Tuesday and forecasters are warning that the dry conditions and strong winds are likely to continue until early next week.
Several countries – including Cyprus, Russia, Italy, Croatia and Greece – have sent help and equipment, including aircraft, to help tackle the blazes.
Mr Netanyahu said officials were also contacting the US company which operates a huge firefighting plane known as the “Supertanker”.
In 2010, 42 people died in a fire on Mount Carmel, just south of Haifa.
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