With brush fires continuing to wreak havoc across the country for a fifth day Saturday, The Times of Israel live-blogged the news as it developed Saturday.
10 Palestinians arrested on suspicion of arson
Israeli security forces arrest 10 Palestinians on suspicion of arson, as firefighters battle a wave of fires across the country.
The detainees include three people found in a car near the West Bank city of Ramallah, with full canisters of gasoline, rags, gloves and lighters in the vehicle, Ynet reports.
Fire erupts in Churchill Forest, near Nazareth Illit
Six firefighting teams are working to extinguish a fire that broke out in the Churchill Forest near Nazareth Illit, in northern Israel, Ynet reports.
Over the past 24 hours there were five fires in the forest.
30% more territory burned than in 2010 Carmel Forest fire
Israel’s Nature and Park Authority says that the territory burned over the past days, some 130,000 dunams (32,124 acres) of natural forests and bushes, is about 30 percent greater than the territory affected in the Carmel Forest fire of 2010.
Most of the territory burned includes the Judean Hills national park and the Kfir natural reserve.
In northern Israel, some 5,000 dunams of forests and bushes have burned.
Fire rekindles at Halamish settlement
The fire in the West Bank settlement of Halamish has renewed in three separate locales in the settlement, Army Radio reports.
Firefighters had succeeded overnight to contain the flames, which destroyed and damaged dozens of homes and forced the hundreds of residents to evacuate.
Yesh Atid MK warns against inciting against entire Arab public
Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah says that while Israel should apprehend and punish arsonists “according to the criteria used for terrorism, there is no less danger in inflaming a collective fire in the face of the Arab Israeli public.”
What Israel needs now “is thoughtful, not gung-ho, leadership,” he adds.
Speaking at a cultural event in central Israel, the MK praises the “courage and dedication of the firefighters. What we have seen over the past few days emphasizes the need to strengthen the home front, because in some scenarios of a military confrontation the picture could be far more dire.”
Shelah proposes the establishment of a civil security force, “to which everyone who is not accepted for military service can be sent, and which will be [embedded] in agencies such as the police, fire service and rescue services.”
Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway to be shut briefly for supertanker mission
The Boeing supertanker firefighting plane will conduct preventative activity in territories near Route 1, the main highway connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Due to the supertanker’s activity, the road will be blocked in both directions along the stretch between Sha’ar Hagai and the Shoresh interchange, from 3-3:30 p.m.
Ahmadiyya sect leader ‘dismayed’ as Likud MK hints Muslims behind fires
Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect in Israel, Muhammad Sharif Odeh, expresses dismay at comments made by Anat Berko on Channel 10 news last night, which the Likud MK wondered aloud why the Kbabir neighborhood in Haifa was spared the fires that swept parts of the city.
The neighborhood is home to many of the adherents of the small sect.
Odeh says he is astounded by Berko’s remarks, as she is personally familiar with many members of the sect and is aware of their attitude to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel Radio reports.
He notes that during the fire, members of the Ahmadiyya hosted more than 150 soldiers from the IDF Home Front command, who had been deployed to Haifa.
The Ahmadiyya is a peaceful Islamic sect established in India in the late 19th century. Adherents of the faith reject all forms of violence and perceive jihad as an internal, psychological struggle.
Fire erupts in Dalyat el Carmel, in north
A fire breaks out in Dalyat el Carmel, a Druze town near Haifa. Six firefighting teams are en route to the scene.
Nataf residents allowed to return to their homes
Police are now allowing residents of Natan, in the Jerusalem hills, to return home.
Nataf was hit yesterday by a large fire which consumed one house and a famous restaurant in the forest community, Rama’s Kitchen.
All residents of Nataf were evacuated yesterday. The restaurant was evacuated when a wedding was taking place there.
Daliyat al-Karmel fire contained, no aerial support needed
Firefighters are succeeding in containing a fire which erupted near the Druze town of Daliyat al-Karmel, Channel 2 reports.
At this time, aerial support will not be called to the area, the station reports.
Supertanker goes into action above Nataf in Jerusalem hills
Officials disagree over where best to deploy the Boeing supertanker, delaying firefighting efforts.
Ultimately, Jerusalem police chief Yoram Halevi dispatches the converted Boeing 747 plane to the Jerusalem hills area, close to Route 1, Israel’s central east-west highway, in order to stem any fresh outbreaks of fire with pre-emptive dousing.
It flies its three first sorties over areas including Nataf, which have been devastated by fires in the past few days.
A top official in the Israel Fire and Rescue Service had opposed using the plane, saying that firefighters are succeeding in containing fires across the country and there is no area where the supertanker needs to be deployed at this time.
The supertanker is the 21st plane to arrive in Israel to assist firefighters battling multiple blazes across the country.
Overnight Friday, a Cypriot plane brought 69 firefighters to help fire service ground forces.
Nataf restaurant owner returns to see her life’s work in embers
Rama Ben Zvi, founder of Rama’s Kitchen in Nataf, says she is still in denial about losing the restaurant she opened more than 20 years ago.
The restaurant burned down Friday in a fire that engulfed the village in the Jerusalem hills.
“It is denial, I feel like I don’t know what I feel. There are moments I weep and there are moments I block it. I cannot contain the force of 21 years invested in this place,” she tells Channel 2.
Rama says she intends to reopen the restaurant, but wants to take her time.
“Don’t pressure me, give me my time. I want to thank everyone for their support and love,” she says.
Haifa students from fire-hit schools to study in safer areas Sunday
The Haifa Municipality says that students from the Romema school in a neighborhood affected by the fires will temporarily study at the Yavnieli school.
According to Ynet, the municipality will operate a shuttle service and will extend the school day in coming days.
Students at the Prahim kindergarten that burned down will attend the Yarden and Leon Blum kindergartens.
Psychologists will be on hand at educational facilities throughout the city, the municipality says.
More than 30 people questioned on arson suspicions
More than 30 people have been questioned by police since the fires started last Tuesday.
Twenty-three detainees are still in custody.
Government to hold weekly meeting in Haifa
The government will hold its weekly meeting tomorrow in Haifa city hall, to show solidarity with the city hard hit by forest fires this week.
Water, electricity reconnected in West Bank settlement hit by fire
Water and electricity are reconnected to homes in the West Bank community of Halamish as firefighters manage to control the flames, Army Radio reports.
Fifteen homes in the community were burned and other homes sustained damage.
The emergency response team in the settlement is asking residents not to return to their homes before evening, when a further assessment of the situation can take place.
New fire in West Bank — arson suspected
Two firefighting teams are scrambled to Um Reihan in the West Bank following reports of a fire building up there, Channel 2 reports.
Firefighters arriving at the scene find two small fires and a pile of tires prepared to be set alight.
IDF soldiers in the area are in pursuit of suspects identified near the scene.
Likud bill seeks house demolitions for ‘arson terrorists’
Likud MK Sharren Haskel says she will file a bill aimed at battling arsonists, the Ma’ariv newspaper reports.
Haskel says the bill, an initiative of Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, will define arsonists as terror activists, so that they can be punished the same way as terrorists, which includes home demolitions.
“We should act to the full extent of the law against arson terrorists and to send a message of warning,” Katz is quoted by the paper as saying.
Haskel says that the recent wave of arsons, in which more than 75,000 people were evacuated from their homes, “is a new rise in severity [of the offense] and we should treat it this way. The amendment to the bill will enable [the state] to confiscate and demolish property belonging to arsonists who damage the state’s security and to define them as terror activists.”
Meanwhile, an unnamed security official quoted by Ma’ariv says the wave of fires did not start as terror attacks but became as much when some Palestinians were “inspired” to set out and light fires.
“Discourse on social media created a ruckus and made Palestinian go online and get inspired. On Thursday morning we monitored hundreds of chats, most of which came to nothing, but some of which led to Palestinians leaving their villages and trying to start fires,” the official says, adding that “it would be a complex mission to turn it into an indictment on suspicion of carrying out acts of terrorism.”
PM thanks Abbas for sending firefighters to help Israel
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanks Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for sending Palestinian firefighters to help Israel fight fires across the country.
Netanyahu also says he appreciates the fact that Jews and Arabs alike opened their homes to people who lost their homes or were evacuated because of the fires.
— Raphael Ahren
Kahlon tells staff not to ‘drown fire victims in paperwork’
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon pledges that his ministry’s staff and property surveyors will work closely with those who lost property in the fires.
In a meeting with ministry staff in Haifa, Kahlon says he instructed the ministry officials to be empathetic to the residents’ pain.
“Don’t let them drown in paperwork, don’t harass them for no reason,” Israel Radio quotes Kahlon as saying.
Two arsonists captured by IDF in West Bank
Two arsonists from the village of Barta’a in the northern West Bank are captured, Channel 10 reports.
Earlier nine arsonists from the village of Kalil were caught red-handed starting a fire near Mount Bracha. IDF soldiers called on the arsonists to halt and fired warning shots in the air but the suspects fled, according to Channel 10.
Most residents in burned West Bank settlement allowed home
The emergency response team in Halamish, in the West Bank, announces that most residents can return to their homes.
Residents of neighborhoods A, B and C are not allowed to stay at home yet since there is a chance that the fire near their homes will reignite, but they are allowed to return to pick up clothes or other property, the Walla news website reports.
Homes of 1,700 Haifa residents unlivable
Some 1,700 Haifa residents are not able to return home, Channel 2, because their homes are unlivable. Earlier reports put the number of such homes at over 400, with 37 completely destroyed.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, speaking to Channel 2, says there will be no school trips into woodlands before Tuesday.
The unusually dry weather for the season, in combination with strong winds, are considered factors that helped fires spread over the past few days. Arson played a part, too, security officials say, with two dozen suspects in custody Saturday night.
Weather forecasts predict rain by Thursday.
Erdan calls for home demolitions of suspected arsonists
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) says Israel should use all the tools at its disposal to punish arsonists suspected of deliberately setting some of the fires that have raged across the country this week, including destroying their homes, just like those convicted of terror acts.
In an interview with Channel 2, Erdan says that if law enforcement “can destroy the homes of terrorists who have shot or stabbed [Israelis], then we can demolish the homes of those who committed arson for nationalistic motives; there is no difference.”
Erdan adds that most of those arrested in connection with the fires, some 35 people over the past few days, are Palestinian residents of the West Bank. A small number of the suspects are Arab Israelis, Erdan says.
Twenty-three suspects remain in custody.
Kahlon approves NIS 2,500 stipend for those who can’t go home due to fires
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon approves a stipend of 2,500 shekels ($650) per person for those who have fled the raging fires nationwide over the past five days and could not return to their homes either because they were destroyed or are uninhabitable at this point.
The Finance Ministry held an emergency meeting Saturday night with officials from the city of Haifa, where massive fires on Thursday forced the evacuation of some 60,000 people. Most were allowed to return Friday, but close to 2,000 homes have been damaged, of which 500 have been deemed uninhabitable, according to authorities.
“We will stand by our residents even after the smoke clears,” Kahlon says, adding that he gave instructions to officials to “be clear, be generous, and don’t let them [those affected] drown in paperwork or be passed around from representative to representative.”
“It’s not an easy task to assess the damage but it is our duty to help residents rebuild their lives,” he says.
French firefighting aircraft arrives in Israel
A French firefighting aircraft arrives in Israel to help battle a wave of blazes across the country.
Two more aircraft are expected later tonight, the Israeli Air Force says.
Israel’s ambassador to France, Aliza Ben Noun, issued a thank you message to France on Twitter, posting pictures of the planes.
— Aliza Bin Noun (@AlizaBinNoun) November 26, 2016
IDF arrests 5 more Palestinians suspected of arson attempts
Four out of nine people injured in Maale Adumim electrical short remain in hospital
Five of the nine people injured in a fire on Friday in Maale Adumim, including an infant, have been released from the hospital, a Hadassah Hospital spokesperson says.
A 52-year-old woman who was seriously injured in the fire remains unconscious and hooked up to a ventilator in Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem.
Three other victims of the fire, which was caused by an electrical short, have been sent to the Assaf HaRofeh Medical Center to receive treatment in the hospital’s hyperbaric chambers.
Police detain Arab Israeli suspected of incitement to commit arson
A Beersheba District Court judge approved a police request to detain a Rahat resident who is suspected of incitement in custody until Monday, police say.
His defense counsel has submitted an appeal, and a hearing will be held on Sunday to determine if the man will remain in jail.
The 24-year-old is accused of encouraging others to commit arson with a Facebook post, which he and others say was meant to be taken sarcastically.
— Judah Ari Gross
Five-day tally: 133 injured, 33,000 dunams of national park destroyed in fires
The Magen David Adom rescue service reports that, in all, 133 people were injured, one seriously, in the wave of forest and brush fires that has swept Israel since Tuesday.
Haifa was the worst-hit city from the blazes, with 527 homes completely destroyed in the northern city, according to a Ynet News tally. Other reports have indicated a lower number, of more than 400 homes, that were rendered unlivable by the fires in Haifa.
Some 2,000 firefighters have battled the flames, alongside 450 soldiers from the Home Front Command and 69 Cypriot troops. Fourteen planes have carried out some 480 sorties. Over 1.5 million tons of fire retardant materials and liquids were used in the wave of fires. The Israel Parks Authority says over 30,000 dunams (7,400 acres) of protected park areas were burned, including 2,800 dunams (700 acres) in Haifa alone.