Wildfires are continuing to rage around the country for the fourth consecutive day as Israelis start to prepare and pray for a peaceful Shabbat.
More homes are being evacuated as new fires spread throughout the North and around the Jerusalem hills. On a positive note, most of the 65,000 Haifa residents who evacuated yesterday were cleared to return to their homes on Friday afternoon.
A Greek pilot who arrived to help rescue crews extinguish the blaze, spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a news conference and noted that this was the second time Greece has come to Israel’s aid in extinguishing a wildfire.
“We are your friends, and we are always here for you,” he said.
Nine suspects have been arrested on suspicion of arson for some of the 220 fires that forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes and destroyed homes and property. Hundreds of people have been treated for smoke inhalation, but no serious injuries or loss of life were reported.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said the situation was “under control” when more fires started on Thursday including 40 in the Upper Galilee area of Nazareth. Areas in the Central Galilee were evacuated when more fires ran ablaze in the Karmiel area.
One fire consumed 10 buildings in Beit Meir, a moshav in the Jerusalem hills. Residents and 400 guests of Beit Meir’s guest houses were evacuated – some of them Haifa residents who fled their own homes on Thursday when fire broke out there.
Many of the fires are the result of arson, Israeli officials said.
“Any fire caused by arson or incitement to arson is terrorism in every sense of the word, and we will treat it as such,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. At least nine suspects are under investigation.
Arab leaders in Israel and Palestinians disputed accusations of an “arson intifada” since Arab homes were also threatened by fire.
“I called (Haifa Mayor) Yona Yahav,” Arab Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi wrote on Twitter. “Our homes are open to the evacuees. Sad and painful. Let’s join hands to overcome the fire and let’s also douse the flames of incitement.”
Knesset Member Ayman Odeh, an Arab Knesset member, condemns acts of arson as harmful, effecting all. The Palestinian Authority sent eight fire trucks and 40 firefighters to help Israel fight the fires.
Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Russia, Italy, Croatia, Azerbaijan and the USA sent fire-fighting planes to help Israel combat the wildfires. Netanyahu thanked Egypt and Jordan who also offered help.
Israel’s emergency crews are better prepared now than in 2010 when 40 people were killed in a fire that raged through the Carmel Forest near Haifa.
Please continue to pray for our Fire and Rescue units, our security teams, for the all people of Israel plus for rain and better weather conditions to help fight the fire.
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
though the earth change,
though the mountains topple into the heart of the seas,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains quake at their swelling.
– Psalm 46:2-4