As wildfires rage across Israel, firefighting efforts diverted from Haifa to Jerusalem

Fire fighters trying to extinguish a wildfire, which broke out at the entrance to Nataf, outside Jerusalem, Nov. 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)


(JTA) — An Israeli village west of Jerusalem was evacuated due to fires raging on its margins, as some firefighting efforts were being diverted from Israel’s north to its center.

The flames nearing the village of Nataf were among three fires reported in the Jerusalem area Friday — the fourth day in which emergency services were battling multiple blazes across Israel, some of which were started by arsonist “terrorists,” according to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Whereas fires were largely contained Friday in the northern city of Haifa, new blazes burned in the Jerusalem area — including a forest fire at Ma’aleh Hahamisha, which police traced back to a firebomb, and another fire at Mevo Horon in the West Bank.

On Friday, police arrested 13 people on suspicion of involvement in the fires, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told Army Radio.

Several people have been treated for smoke inhalation but no serious injuries have been reported due to the fires.

During a visit to Hazor Airbase south of Tel Aviv, Netanyahu said of the fire starters: “These are people who are very hostile to the State of Israel. We’re seeing them operating in small teams and who knows whether they intercommunicate, which they don’t necessarily need to be doing” to keep causing fires.

The fires have been fanned by hot, dry weather and high winds, but some — including in Zichron Ya’akov, near Haifa — were started by arsonists, the head of local firefighting force said following an investigation.

Netanyahu, who on Thursday vowed to punish arsonists, has accepted offers of assistance from the Palestinian Authority, Egypt and Jordan, who on Friday joined Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Russia and the United States in offering to help with firefighting equipment and personnel.

Egypt will send two helicopters, Jordan will send several trucks and the Palestinian Authority will dispatch four firefighting trucks as well.

Yona Yahav, the mayor of Haifa, which was one of the cities most heavily hit by the fires, said he was shocked to see the damage during a tour of the affected areas Friday.

“I had a difficult emotional experience,” he told Army Radio. “We take pride in how green our city is, but now everything is painted black.” Some 80,000 people were briefly evacuated from some neighborhoods of Haifa but they were allowed to return to their homes Friday.

Yahav added he had no information on the people who have been arrested on suspicion of arson, but wished to remind listeners that “there wasn’t a single Arab town in the country that didn’t contact me to offer its help.”

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