Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that there have definitely been acts of arson in the wave of fires that have engulfed Israel since Tuesday, and warned anyone caught would face the harshest penalties.
“Unfortunately there is no doubt there have been incidents of arson,” Netanyahu told reporters after touring the Hatsor Air force base in central Israel, which is the staging ground for the Israeli and foreign firefighting aircraft.
“The instructions are to prosecute anyone committing these acts so that all can see that anyone who tries to burn down the state of Israel will face the fullest punishment,” he said.
“There is a price to crime and there is a price for terror and incitement and we will exact it,” he warned.
He did not say how many of the hundreds of fires that have hit the country in recent days, were known to have been arson. The fires have been exacerbated by unusually dry conditions and strong winds. Some security officials have indicated about half of the fires were arson, while others have stressed there is no definitive evidence of any organized campaign of arson.
On Thursday Netanyahu said that he would seek to take away the Israeli residency from anyone caught committing arson or inciting it.
At the air force base Friday, Netanyahu took part in a briefing with Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan, the Acting National Security Adviser Yaacov Nagel, police chief Roni Alsheich, Air Force head Amir Eshel and senior firefighting officer Shimon Ben-Ner. Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev also attended the briefing.
Erdan gave updated figures, saying that so far 14 people have been arrested.
“The investigations will be given the highest priority because we are talking about terror that could have tens of thousands of potential suspects,” Erdan said, “So we will have to see how we prepare to deal with these threats.”
Army Radio reported are that at least 6 of those arrested were Palestinians in Israel illegally, while Israeli Arab lawmakers said that the one person arrested for incitement, a Bedouin from southern Israel, was actually being sarcastic in his Facebook post.
Earlier Friday Netanyahu toured Beit Meir in the Jerusalem hills where a massive fire ravaged the village, burning 10 houses overnight. Netanyahu praised the firefighters for ensuring no one was harmed.
“The most important thing is to evacuate the people, and also yourselves,” he said. No one needs to die in this thing,” he said.