Is­rael arrests 13 over ar­son

For­eign fire­fight­ers help com­bat wild­fire plague

Kuwait Times - - LOCAL -

JERUSALEM:

Is­raeli po­lice ar­rested 13 peo­ple yes­ter­day on sus­pi­cion of ar­son, author­i­ties said, af­ter mas­sive wild­fires tore through cen­tral and north­ern Is­rael, a con­fla­gra­tion that Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu branded as “ter­ror­ism”. Fire­fight­ers kept bat­tling the flames in wooded hills around Jerusalem and in north­ern ar­eas on Fri­day, with sup­port from Pales­tinian fire­men and emer­gency teams from Greece, Cyprus, Croa­tia, Italy, Rus­sia and Tur­key. Ne­tanyahu said he had also ac­cepted of­fers of help from Egypt and Jor­dan.

On the ground, Pales­tinian fire­fight­ers on Thurs­day night joined the Is­raelis, send­ing four fire en­gines to the north­ern city of Haifa and four more to the vil­lage of Beit Meir, near Jerusalem. In the co­op­er­a­tive vil­lage of re­li­gious Jews, where about 400 res­i­dents were evac­u­ated from their homes, Is­raeli and Pales­tinian crews fought side by side against the flames.

Un­sea­son­ably dry weather and east­erly winds helped kin­dle the fires, which erupted on Tues­day and now stretch across half the coun­try. Ar­son ap­peared to be be­hind some of the blazes, Ne­tanyahu said. “A price will be paid for this ar­son-ter­ror­ism,” he told re­porters yes­ter­day. He said the ar­son was car­ried out by “el­e­ments with great hos­til­ity to­ward Is­rael.” “We can­not tell yet if this is or­ga­nized, but we can see a num­ber of cells op­er­at­ing,” Ne­tanyahu said.

Ac­cu­sa­tions

Po­lice spokesman Micky Rosen­feld said a dozen peo­ple had been de­tained ei­ther while at­tempt­ing to set fires or flee­ing the area, but he pro­vided no fur­ther de­tails. In­ter­nal Se­cu­rity Min­is­ter Gi­lad Er­dan told re­porters 13 peo­ple were ar­rested. Er­dan said those ar­rested were “mi­nori­ties”, an al­lu­sion to ei­ther Arab Is­raeli citizens or Pales­tini­ans. “The high­est like­li­hood is that the mo­tive is na­tion­al­is­tic,” Er­dan told Army Ra­dio. Po­lice, how­ever, stopped short of declar­ing any mo­tive. The fires are the big­gest in the coun­try since 2010, when 44 peo­ple were killed in a killed in a mas­sive blaze in the north. In­ves­ti­ga­tors con­cluded that fire was caused by neg­li­gence.

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Naf­tali Ben­nett, leader of a far-right party, said on Thurs­day the fires could not have been started by Jews and on Fri­day blamed them on “na­tion­al­ist ter­ror­ists”, a ref­er­ence in Is­rael to Pales­tini­ans. “There is no co­in­ci­den­tal ‘wave of fires’,” he wrote on Twit­ter. “There is a na­tion­al­ist ter­ror­ist wave by fire ter­ror­ists meant to mur­der civil­ians and cause fright.”

There has been no of­fi­cial re­sponse from Pales­tinian lead­ers. But Ay­man Odeh, a lead­ing Is­raeli Arab politi­cian from Haifa, re­jected the sug­ges­tion Arabs were re­spon­si­ble for ar­son at­tacks and ac­cused the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment of tak­ing ad­van­tage of the sit­u­a­tion to in­cite against the Arab mi­nor­ity. Nearly a third of the res­i­dents of Haifa, a coastal city of around 250,000 peo­ple, in­clud­ing a large Arab pop­u­la­tion, spent the night in shel­ters and nearby towns and vil­lages af­ter be­ing or­dered to leave on Thurs­day in the face of walls of flame.

Smoke bil­lowed over the city yes­ter­day morn­ing as fire­fight­ers worked to douse the re­main­ing fires. City of­fi­cials said the sit­u­a­tion was un­der con­trol but that at least 700 homes had been badly dam­aged or de­stroyed. About 80,000 evac­uees from Haifa were al­lowed to re­turn to their homes on Fri­day as fire­fight­ers curbed the flames. Is­rael’s chief of po­lice said on Thurs­day peo­ple may have de­cided to start fires af­ter see­ing the trou­ble they were caus­ing. “We’re in an area where if some­one sees on the news there is an op­por­tu­nity, he can take ad­van­tage of the op­por­tu­nity,” said Roni Al­she­ich.

An Is­raeli army spokes­woman said forces had ar­rested a Pales­tinian man caught try­ing to set a fire near the Is­raeli set­tle­ment of Kochav Yaakov in the oc­cu­pied West Bank. Footage aired on Is­raeli tele­vi­sion showed three peo­ple set­ting a fire in an open area near the West Bank set­tle­ment of Ariel. Po­lice said one man from the Be­douin vil­lage of Ra­hat in south­ern Is­rael had been ar­rested for in­cite­ment af­ter he posted a mes­sage on his Face­book page call­ing on oth­ers to start fires. Pales­tini­ans seek an in­de­pen­dent state in ter­ri­to­ries in­clud­ing the West Bank that Is­rael took in a 1967 war. The last round of peace talks col­lapsed in 2014. —Agen­cies

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