2 Arab Israelis charged with arson
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2 Arab Israelis charged with arson

Court orders arrest of suspects, who are alleged to have started a brush fire near Mei Ami in the north

Flames from a massive forest fire in Haifa still burning on November 25, 2016. The massive fires in the city a day earlier led to the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents (Gili Yaari /Flash90)
Flames from a massive forest fire in Haifa still burning on November 25, 2016. The massive fires in the city a day earlier led to the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents (Gili Yaari /Flash90)

An Israeli court ordered the arrest of two Arab Israelis charged with arson on Thursday.

Suleyman Ben Tawfiq Mahameed and an unnamed minor, both from the northern Arab-Israeli town of Umm al-Fahm, are alleged to have attempted to start a large forest fire in the area of the nearby town of Mei Ami on November 25.

After lighting some bushes on fire near the entrance to the town, the two got in their car to leave the scene, but were spotted by the town’s security coordinator, Tom Dahan, and volunteer security guard Chai Shalem, who were patrolling the area. The two tried to chase after the suspects in their car, but they sped off, according to a statement published by the Haifa District Court.

The court on Thursday accepted a request from the state prosecution to arrest the two.

The fire spread to cover an area of 290 square meters (3,120 square feet), and was eventually put out by seven firefighting teams and four firefighting jets.

There were no reported casualties.

The incident came at the tail-end of a wave of fires that ravaged Israel between November 18 and November 26, many of which are believed to have started from arson.

People run as wildfires rages in Haifa, Israel, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
People run as wildfires rages in Haifa, Israel, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

According to Fire Services spokesman Yoram Levy, there were over 2,000 brush fires during this period, with 39 of them considered to be major. Fifty of the fires are currently being investigated as potential arson attacks.

In all, at least 35 people were arrested in connection with the fires but almost all of them have since been released.

Authorities estimate that some 130,000 dunams (32,124 acres) were destroyed in the blazes, approximately 30 percent more than the 2010 Carmel fire in which 44 people were killed. Haifa officials said fires ravaged some 28,000 dunams (6,900 acres) of land in the city alone. At least 60,000 of the city’s residents were evacuated while firefighters battled to contain a blaze that had entered a dozen of the city’s neighborhoods from the nearby Carmel Forest.

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