Is­raeli set­tlers flee as W Bank fires spread

Kuwait Times - - LOCAL -

Wild­fires near Jewish set­tle­ments in the oc­cu­pied West Bank have forced hun­dreds to flee their homes, af­ter mass evac­u­a­tions in Is­rael and more than a dozen ar­rests, po­lice said yes­ter­day. Is­raeli and Pales­tinian fire­fight­ers, helped by for­eign air­craft, have been bat­tling dozens of bush blazes fed by drought and high winds that have seen tens of thou­sands of peo­ple evac­u­ated. Around 1,000 res­i­dents had to leave the Halamish set­tle­ment near Ra­mal­lah as 45 homes were dam­aged or de­stroyed by fire, a po­lice spokes­woman said.

Blazes were also re­ported near the West Bank set­tle­ments of Dolev, Alfei Me­nashe and Karnei Shom­ron, although there were no evac­u­a­tions there. Fire­fight­ing planes from Is­rael and coun­tries in­clud­ing Rus­sia, Turkey, Greece, France, Spain and Canada con­tin­ued to dump tonnes of wa­ter and re­tar­dants on fires at lo­ca­tions in­clud­ing the vil­lage of Nataf close to Jerusalem. A po­lice spokes­woman said the large-scale ef­fort man­aged to bring the Nataf blaze un­der con­trol by Satur­day af­ter­noon, al­low­ing res­i­dents to re­turn.

A newly ar­rived US Su­per­tanker, con­sid­ered the largest fire­fight­ing air­craft in the world, joined the emer­gency op­er­a­tion yes­ter­day. Po­lice said they had ar­rested 14 peo­ple on sus­pi­cion of neg­li­gence or de­lib­er­ately start­ing fires, with­out pro­vid­ing de­tails about their iden­ti­ties. In the coun­try’s third city Haifa, where tens of thou­sands of peo­ple had been evac­u­ated Thurs­day from the path of tow­er­ing flames which threat­ened en­tire neigh­bor­hoods, res­i­dents have be­gun returning home to as­sess the dam­age.

The Is­raeli au­thor­i­ties sus­pect that some of the fires may have been of crim­i­nal ori­gin and linked to the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict. Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu said Fri­day there was “no doubt” that some of the fires had been de­lib­er­ate. “There is a price to pay for the crimes com­mit­ted, there is a price to pay for ar­son ter­ror­ism,” he said. Arab Is­raeli lead­ers have ar­gued that their com­mu­nity, which makes up about 17.5 per­cent of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion, is as much af­fected by the fires as Jews.

The Pales­tini­ans joined the ef­forts overnight to ex­tin­guish the blazes, send­ing 41 fire­fight­ers and eight trucks to Haifa where around 200 fam­i­lies have been left home­less, the mu­nic­i­pal­ity said. Is­rael’s Na­ture and Parks Au­thor­ity is­sued a state­ment say­ing that 13,000 hectares of for­est and shrub­land have been burned in re­cent days. Lo­cal me­dia quoted au­thor­i­ties as say­ing an es­ti­mated 700 homes have so far been dam­aged or de­stroyed by the fires. —AFP

NATAF: The Amer­i­can 747 su­per­tanker helps ex­tin­guish a fire over this vil­lage close to Jerusalem yes­ter­day. —AFP

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