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Israel

Dozens of houses destroyed as West Bank wildfires spread

Wildfires in the West Bank have been burning for nearly a week, as international groups send aid. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has made a rare call to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to thank him for his help.

Wildfires burnt more than 40 homes in the Jewish settlement of Halamish in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, forcing the evacuation of all 1,000-plus of its residents on Saturday, police said. Authorities said three people were seriously injured in the blaze, one of many which politicians claim were deliberately lit. 

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the Halamish fire erupted in several locations and quickly spread throughout the settlement. Wildfires, but no evacuations, were also reported near the West Bank settlements of Dolev, Alfei Menashe and Karnei Shomron.

Israel Radio reported several other people were moderately injured in the Maale Adumim fire, noting that nearby Palestinian villages were also facing fires. An international team of firefighters have been battling multiple blazes in Israel for five days now.

The fires started near Jerusalem and spread quickly due to dry and windy weather. Israel's third-largest city of Haifa was hardest hit, with 200 people left homeless after tens of thousands were forced to flee on Thursday.

Police said they had arrested 14 unidentified people on suspicion of negligence or deliberately starting fires. Authorities said some of the fires were linked to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

 Israeli firefighters try to extinguish a fire in Nataf near Jerusalem, Israel

An international team of firefighters have been battling multiple blazes

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday there was "no doubt" some of the fires had been deliberately lit. "There is a price to pay for the crimes committed, there is a price to pay for arson terrorism," he said. 

Arab-Israeli leaders argued the fires affected their community just as much as the Jewish people. Palestinian groups have helped extinguish some of the blazes, sending 41 firefighters and eight trucks to Haifa, the municipality said. 

On Saturday, Netanyahu called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to thank him for helping to extinguish the fires, adding that he appreciated that both Jews and Arabs had taken victims into their homes. Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog thanked the Palestinians as well, saying that "from this tragedy a shimmer of hope will grow that things can be different." 

Russia, Turkey, Greece, France, Spain and Canada have all sent firefighting planes which have dumped tons of water and retardants in areas including the village of Nataf close to Jerusalem. A US supertanker, considered the largest firefighting aircraft in the world, joined the fight on Saturday.

cw, aw, jar/cmk (AP, dpa, AFP)