Israeli firefighters are battling several forest and brush fires across Israel and the West Bank. Police have said they are investigating all possible causes, including arson.
A number of wildfires continued to spread across central and northern Israel as well as parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Thursday, as hot, windy weather fanned the blazes.
Hundreds of homes have been damaged or destroyed, though there have so far been no reports of deaths or serious injuries. About a dozen people have reportedly been treated for smoke inhalation.
The fires temporarily forced the closure of a highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and hundreds of residents have been evacuated from some neighborhoods of Haifa as the flames reached the northern city, police said.
Police said the fires started three days ago at the Neve Shalom community near Jerusalem. Blazes also later broke out in the northern area of Zichron Yaakov and other locations near Jerusalem.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said it had not yet been determined whether any of the fires had been deliberately set. But he added that four arrested Palestinians would appear in court later on Wednesday after they negligently started a bonfire.
Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan told Army Radio, however, that almost half of the fires were "apparently arson."
Several countries, including Cyprus, Russia, Italy, Croatia, Turkey and Greece, have helped out Israeli firefighters with equipment.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for his help, with Netanyahu's office saying Russia was sending two firefighting aircraft to Israel.
Israel's firefighting services were reformed after a major forest fire in northern Israel in 2010 killed 42 people. Among other things, the disaster prompted the establishment of the airborne firefighting squadron.
tj/sms (Reuters, AP)