As fires rage through Israel, Netanyahu calls arsonists ‘terrorists’
Israeli firefighters help extinguish a fire in the northern Israeli port city of Haifa on November 24, 2016. (AFP/Jack Guez)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and local police said Thursday that arsonists with political motives may have deliberately started wildfires across the country over the past few days.
"Every fire that was the result of arson or incitement to arson is terror in every way and we'll treat it as such," Netanyahu was quoted as saying in a press conference.
Around 75,000 people were told to evacuate in Haifa - about a quarter of the population - as severe bush fires burn in and around Israel's third-largest city, reports said.
Rescue services said that 60 people were injured, many suffering from smoke inhalation.
A total of 11 neighbourhoods were evacuated, as fires spread across the city. Military and police are preparing further evacuations. Around 100 people have been treated for fire-related injuries, most of them smoke inhalation.
Police estimated that there are over 200 separate fires across the country, The Jerusalem Post reported, including around the capital Jerusalem itself.
Some arrests had been made in connection with the blazes, Israeli police chief Roni Alsheich said.
"We are acting on the assumption that the cases of arson have nationalist motives," he told reporters in Haifa.
"It's already pretty clear that some of the fires are the result of arson. As the prime minister said, this is terror by arsonists," Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan was quoted as saying.
High winds and a long drought have contributed to the fires over the past days.
Israeli intelligence services are looking into possible political motivations for the fires, especially concerning the blaze in Haifa, according to news site Ynet.
Netanyahu on Wednesday asked the Greek and Croatian governments for special planes to help local firefighters tackle the blazes, which are being seen as the worst since forest fires in 2010 killed over 40 people.
Italy, Turkey, Cyprus, France as well as Russia and a US company are also sending help, the Israeli government said.
The Palestinian civil defence authorities offered to send fire engines and specially equipped cars to help fight the blazes.
Three civil security aircraft were departing from France "as soon as possible" to assist the Israeli authorities, French President Francois Hollande said in a statement Thursday.