Israel: Thousands Flee as Fire Burns Down Parts of Haifa

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Picture courtesy: Kid Gibson

Tens of thousands of Israelis were evacuated as raging wild bushfires spread through parts of the northern city of Haifa on Thursday. After a drought of two months, this fire outbreak added to the suffering.

Strong winds were further fuelling the fire. There were suspicions that some of the fires were arson.

Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu said that any proof of arson would be treated as “terror”. “Every fire that was the result of arson or incitement to arson is terror in every way and we’ll treat it as such,” he was quoted by the Haaretz newspaper.

Wildfires also threatened homes near Jerusalem and in the West Bank. Residents were confined to their homes. The army called up reservists to help firefighters struggling to cope with three successive days of fire outbreaks. Residents, in the chaos, did the needful by evacuating the elderly.

“If fires had been started deliberately,” Police chief Roni Alsheich said, “It was safe to assume that it is politically-motivated”.

Naftali Bennett, education minister, leader of the right-wing religious Jewish party, also appeared to suggest that Arabs or Palestinians might be involved in the fires. She tweeted “Only those to whom the country does not belong are capable of burning it.”

The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement reacted saying the Israeli officials were “exploiting the fire” to accuse Palestinians.

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“What is burning are our trees and our land of historical Palestine,” it said in a statement.

In connection with a fire near Jerusalem, four Palestinians have been arrested and are due to appear in court, officials said.

The extent of the damage caused by the fire can be determined only in the following days. For the moment, areas in southern Haifa are enveloped in smoke, the air filled with ash carried by hefty and hard-blowing dry winds, reports AFP.

Rescue planes dropped water and a lot of powder every few minutes to douse the fire and to stop the flames from spreading. Some people stuffed a few prized possessions into shopping trolleys and ran to safety. Soldiers, police, medics and firefighters are all present to help in evacuations and organise rescue attempts.

Several countries including Greece, Russia and Turkey have offered help.