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Palestinians,others help Israel fight fire


JERUSALEM: The first foreign firefighting planes on Friday started helping Israel tackle a vicious wave of wildfires which have forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.

Faced for the past four days with fires across the country fed by drought and high winds, Israel has been promised airborne assistance by Russia, France, Turkey, Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Croatia.

On the ground, Palestinian firefighters on Thursday night joined the Israelis, sending four fire engines to the northern city of Haifa and four more to the village of Beit Meir, near Jerusalem.

In the cooperative village of religious Jews, where about 400 residents were evacuated from their homes, Israeli and Palestinian crews fought side by side against the flames.

The fires appeared to be easing somewhat on Friday, despite the persistent wind, although authorities warned that they could flare up again at any time.

“Things can change and develop as we speak,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said some of the foreign planes were in action on Friday. “We are deeply grateful to the international community,” he said. “Its mobilisation proves that in times of crisis we can count on many friends in this region and beyond.”

The rising number of fires since Tuesday has stretched Israel’s capacity to deal with them, raising questions over lessons learned since a devastating blaze near Haifa killed 44 people in 2010. Some are suspected of criminal negligence leading to accidental fires in tinder-dry woodland and undergrowth, while there are also suspicions that some may have been deliberate and related to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

And Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the far-right Jewish Home party appeared to blame the alleged arson on members of the Arab minority when he said the fires could not have been lit by Jews.

“Only those to whom the land does not belong to are capable of burning it,” he Tweeted.

Some Israeli media joined in, speculating on the possible emergence of a “fire intifada”, or Palestinian uprising, but Yediot Aharonot newspaper disapproved.

“When the prime minister calls this terror, even if he doesn’t say Arabs, a link is made that is supposed to be understood by everyone, ‘This is a wave of terror, the Arabs are burning down the country,’” its commentator Alex Fishman wrote.

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