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Israeli colonists flee as wildfires spread in Palestine

Regime police said they had arrested 14 people on suspicion of negligence or deliberately starting fires

  • A Croatian firefighter plane helps douse a blaze along the border with the occupied West Bank yesterday. FirefImage Credit: AFP
  • Firefighters try to control a new fire west of the town of Abu Ghosh along the border with the occupied West BImage Credit: AFP
  • Firefighters helps extinguish a new fire that broke out in the Israeli town of Nataf, west of the Arab IsraeliImage Credit: AFP
Gulf News

Occupied Jerusalem: Wildfires near Jews-only colonies in the occupied West Bank have forced hundreds to flee their homes, after mass evacuations inside the Green Line and more than a dozen arrests, police said on Saturday.

Israeli and Palestinian firefighters, helped by foreign aircraft, have been battling dozens of bush blazes fed by drought and high winds that have seen tens of thousands of people evacuated.

Around 1,000 residents had to leave the so-called Halamish colony near Ramallah as 45 homes were damaged or destroyed by fire, an Israeli police spokeswoman said.

Blazes were also reported near the West Bank colonies known to Israelis as Dolev, Alfei Menashe and Karnei Shomron although there were no evacuations there.

Firefighting planes from Israel and countries including Russia, Turkey, Greece, France, Spain and Canada continued to dump tonnes of water and flame retardants on fires at locations including the village of Nataf close to occupied Jerusalem.

A newly arrived US supertanker, considered the largest firefighting aircraft in the world, was due to join the emergency operation on Saturday.

Regime police said they had arrested 14 people on suspicion of negligence or deliberately starting fires, without providing details on their identities.

In Haifa, where tens of thousands had been evacuated on Thursday from the path of towering flames which threatened entire neighbourhoods, residents have started to return to assess the damage.

Israeli regime authorities suspect that some of the fires may have been of criminal origin and linked to Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday there was “no doubt” that some of the fires had been deliberately started.

“There is a price to pay for the crimes committed, there is a price to pay for arson terrorism,” he said.

Leaders of the Palestinian community inside the Green Line have argued that their community, which makes up about 17.5 per cent of Arabs living in Israel, is as much affected by the fires as Jews.

The Palestinians joined the efforts overnight to extinguish the blazes, sending 41 firefighters and eight trucks to Haifa where around 200 families have been left homeless, the Israeli municipality in Haifa said.