Arson suspects arrested as Israel battles wildfires | News | DW | 25.11.2016
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Arson suspects arrested as Israel battles wildfires

Israeli police said they arrested 12 people on suspicion of arson after massive wildfires in the center and north of the country. Tens of thousands of people had to flee the flames in the coastal city of Haifa.

The arrests announced Friday came as firefighters were bringing the flames in hills around Jerusalem and northern parts of Israel under control. Israelis were supported by Palestinian firefighters as well as emergency teams from Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Italy, Russia, France and Turkey.

"We have arrested 12 suspects who have been involved directly or indirectly with the fires," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

According to the Reuters news agency, police said one man in southern Israel had been arrested for incitement after allegedly posting a message on Facebook calling for others to start fires.

Israel Waldbrände (Reuters/R. Zvulun)

Firefighters survey the damage in Beit Meir near Jerusalem

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said some of the fires appeared to have been deliberately lit.

"Every fire that was caused by arson, or incitement to arson, is terrorism by all accounts. And we will treat it as such," Netanyahu told reporters gathered in Haifa on Thursday. In Israel, the word "terror" is often used to refer to militant acts committed by Arabs or Palestinians.

Statements by several Israeli politicians have implicated Arabs, however others including Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog urged restraint.

"I really advise that we be careful not to add to the flames," he is quoted as saying on Israeli public radio. 

Precarious situation

Though no serious injuries have been reported, dozens of people needed hospital treatment for smoke inhalation.

City officials in Haifa said firefighters were working to douse remaining hotspots. At least 700 homes had been destroyed or badly damaged and up to 80,000 people had to flee. There was concern that dry, windy weather could whip up the flames again. Many firefighters had been working constantly since Tuesday when blazes began near Jerusalem.

The string of fires was the worst in Israel since 2010, when an out-of-control blaze burned for four days and killed 44 people. This year a long, dry summer and autumn had brought about ideal conditions for fires to spread across Israel and parts of the West Bank - no matter how they were started.

se/kl (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)

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