Twelve arrested over mass Israel wildfires
Israeli police have arrested 12 people on suspicion of arson after massive wildfires tore through central and northern Israel, forcing about 80,000 people in the city of Haifa to flee and destroying hundreds of homes.
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.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had also accepted offers of help from Egypt and Jordan.
Netanyahu said arson appeared to be responsible for some fires and accused those behind them of terrorism.
Unseasonably dry weather and easterly winds helped kindle the conflagration, which started on Tuesday and stretches across half the country.
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 said they were minorities , an allusion to either Arab Israeli citizens or Palestinians.
The highest likelihood is that the motive is nationalistic, Erdan told Army Radio.
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 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 one-third of the residents of Haifa, a coastal city of about 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 on Friday morning as firefighters worked to douse the remaining fires.
City officials said the situation was under control but at least 700 properties had been badly damaged or destroyed.