75,000 evacuated from Haifa amid allegations of ‘arson terror’
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75,000 evacuated from Haifa amid allegations of ‘arson terror’

Fires contained elsewhere in the country; eight countries sending planes to combat blazes, Palestinians dispatching crew

Israeli firefighters help extinguish a fire in the northern port city of Haifa on November 24, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)
Israeli firefighters help extinguish a fire in the northern port city of Haifa on November 24, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

Firefighters continued to battle blazes around the country, including massive fires in Haifa, Thursday evening, with government officials blaming some of the fires on arsonists, whom they accused of “terrorism.”

More than 75,000 people were evacuated from their homes in Israel’s third largest city, and 136 people were treated for smoke inhalation. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said the situation elsewhere in the country was “under control.”

More than 300 firefighters were working through the evening to try battle the blazes, supported by IDF soldiers and members of the Home Front Command.

Large areas of Haifa were without power. Earlier on Thursday the city’s Prison 6, a military jail, was evacuated. On Thursday night 270 prisoners in the nearby Damon jail were also evacuated.

Reports said up to eight people were arrested as suspected arsonists throughout Israel.

Schools and kindergartens were canceled on Friday in areas of Haifa that were evacuated. Authorities were warning residents not to return to their homes until instructed to do so, and calling on anyone who had not yet left their home to leave.

There were many blazes in other parts of the country throughout the day. In the evening, a fire broke out near Shuafat in East Jerusalem and two houses were evacuated. One firefighter was lightly injured near Shaar Hagai, close to the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Route 1 highway.

In the community of Har Halutz near Carmiel Thursday night, police evacuated residents as firefighters battles flames that threatened to engulf several homes.

Erdan, the public security minister, said that the situation across the country was “under control,” and warned that any who deliberately started fires would be punished.

“There is no difference between arson and incitement to commit terrorism,” he said, echoing a statement delivered earlier in the day by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Officials said that more than 50 percent of the fires currently burning in Israel were caused by arson, Channel 2 reported in mid-afternoon.

Israeli firefighters help extinguish a fire in the northern port city of Haifa on November 24, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)
Israeli firefighters help extinguish a fire in the northern port city of Haifa on November 24, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

Netanyahu said that Israel has received offers of assistance from many other countries, which he appreciates and has accepted. In the evening, Jerusalem said it accepted the accepted the Palestinian Authority’s offer offer to send four firetrucks to assist in combating the blazes.

Greece sent three firefighting planes, Cyprus and Turkey sent one plane each and Croatia sent two planes. Italy, Russia, France and Ukraine are each sending two planes, which will arrive during the night.

The Foreign Ministry also confirmed Israel had ordered the American B747-400 SuperTanker. The plane, which is the next generation of the Evergreen plane used to combat 2010’s Carmel fires, will arrive on Friday night. It is larger than its predecessor, and capable of holding over 75,000 liters of water

An extra 800 police officers have been deployed in Haifa to deter looters from raiding areas that have been evacuated.

People across the country have opened their homes to welcome those evacuated from the north, and many public buildings were being used as makeshift dormitories for those without homes.

Senior Finance Ministry officials were set to hold an emergency situation assessment Thursday evening in order to decide where best to divert funds to help those affected by the wave of fires and local government bodies assisting them.

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