In phone call, Netanyahu thanks Abbas for PA help fighting nationwide fires
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In phone call, Netanyahu thanks Abbas for PA help fighting nationwide fires

PM notes appreciation for Jews, Arabs who opened their homes to those affected by blazes; Herzog says tragedy shows 'glimmer of hope that things can be different'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas during the state funeral of late president Shimon Peres, held at Mt. Herzl, in Jerusalem on September 30, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas during the state funeral of late president Shimon Peres, held at Mt. Herzl, in Jerusalem on September 30, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday evening to thank him for the Palestinians’ help in battling nationwide fires that have raged since Tuesday, forcing thousands to flee and destroying or damaging hundreds of homes.

In the call, Netanyahu expressed his gratitude for the eight fire trucks and 40 firefighters provided by the Palestinian Authority to fight the fires, alongside help from other countries including Cyprus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Italy, Turkey, Russia and the United States which provided a supertanker, the largest firefighting aircraft in the world.

The head of the Palestinian Authority fire service, Yousef Nasser, was in Israel on Saturday, in a sign of appreciation for the assistance his firefighters provided. He toured the Fire Service command centers at Neve Ilan, near Jerusalem and in Rishon Lezion, as well as visited his firefighters working alongside their Israeli counterparts.

In the call to Abbas, the prime minister also noted his appreciation for the on-the-ground cooperation between Jews and Arabs who opened their homes for those affected by the fires, according to a statement by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Palestinian firefighters work in Haifa, Israel, Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. Firefighters have reined in a blaze that spread across Israel's third-largest city of Haifa and forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Palestinian firefighters work in Haifa, Israel, Friday, Nov. 25, 2016. Firefighters have reigned in a blaze that spread across Israel’s third-largest city of Haifa and forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog also thanked the Palestinian Authority for its help, expressing his belief that “from this tragedy, there is a glimmer of hope that things can be different.”

Herzog said that the cooperation was “proof that there are those interested in suppressing terrorism, who have a true desire for cooperation and coexistence in the region.”

The head of the Zionist Union party also thanked the “dozens of firefighters and aerial firefighting teams, sent from around the world who helped to “sav[e] the lives of thousands of Israelis who were imminently threatened as the flames spread.”

“Among them, 44 Palestinian firefighters, who have today completed their mission after three days of fighting fire on several fronts, stood shoulder to shoulder with our firefighters, risking their lives to assist. They were highly praised for their actions, and we are grateful for their assistance, and that of all the firefighters and pilots form around the world who helped us,” Herzog said in a statement to the press.

Israeli crews were joined starting Thursday night by the PA firefighting teams, who joined the battle to contain massive blazes in Haifa and at Sha’ar Hagai on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

A firefighting plane from Cyprus works to extinguish a forest fire in the forest near Neve Ilan, outside of Jerusalem, on November 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A firefighting plane from Cyprus works to extinguish a forest fire in the forest near Neve Ilan, outside of Jerusalem, on November 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Palestinian firefighters from Ramallah also swung into action in the early hours of Saturday to help douse the flames at the West Bank settlement of Halamish, where dozens of houses were damaged or destroyed.

Jordan and Egypt have joined the host of nations sending assistance. Both of the Arab neighbors with which Israel has peace treaties offered help and Israel accepted, the Prime Minister’s Office said Friday. Jordan will send fire trucks and Egypt two firefighting helicopters.

The show of solidarity from Egypt, Jordan and the PA was a welcome sign after many Arabic-speaking social media users in Israel and abroad have cheered on the fires, causing the Arabic-language hashtag label “Israel is burning” to reach the third-most trending tag on Twitter in several Arab countries.

Some of the nationwide blazes were allegedly set by arsonists, and have been fueled by unusually dry conditions and strong winds over the past five days.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report

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