Troops thwart arson attempt at West Bank checkpoint
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Troops thwart arson attempt at West Bank checkpoint

Surveillance crew spots 3 suspects, later identified as Palestinians, trying to start blaze near Ariel settlement

Israeli forces on Tuesday foiled an arson attempt near a checkpoint in the central West Bank, the Defense Ministry said.

The incident came after a spate of devastating wildfires around the country over the past week destroyed hundreds of homes. Some of the fires were blamed on arson.

Surveillance camera operators identified three people starting a fire in an open area near the checkpoint on Route 5, to the west of the major settlement of Ariel.

IDF troops were dispatched to the scene, where they apprehended three Palestinian suspects, the statement said. Firefighters who arrived were able to quickly extinguish the flames.

The Israel Fire and Rescue Services has said it dealt with 1,773 fires with from November 18 to November 26.

Blazes burned hundreds of homes and ravaged tens of thousands of dunams of forest and scrubland, with reservists and international firefighting teams — including firefighting aircraft — drafted in to help battle the fires.

Firefighting planes from countries including Russia, Turkey, Greece, France, Spain, Canada and the US rushed to Israel to help dump tons of water and retardants on some of fires that blazed across the country, fanned by unseasonably dry easterly winds.

Fire burning in the West Bank settlement of Halamish on November 26, 2016 (Israel Fire and Rescue Services)
Fire burning in the West Bank settlement of Halamish on November 26, 2016 (Israel Fire and Rescue Services)

Most of the fires were caused by the weather and incidents of negligence, though officials have pointed to arson as the cause for at least some.

Police have arrested at least 35 people on suspicion of arson or incitement to arson.

Hardest hit was Haifa, where 527 apartments were destroyed completely, leaving 1,600 people homeless, and from which 75,000 residents had to be evacuated as the flames threatened 11 neighborhoods.

Zichron Yaakov, the Jerusalem Hills and parts of the West Bank were also affected, with dozens of homes damaged or destroyed.

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