ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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Fire investigator: We still don’t know which blazes were arson

Despite proclamations by politicians and police, Channel 2 says most suspects freed, just 2 indictments filed

Chief fire investigator Herzl Aharon (screen capture: Channel 2)
Chief fire investigator Herzl Aharon (screen capture: Channel 2)

The head of the investigation into the wave of devastating fires that swept Israel last month sought Saturday to downplay claims that the blazes were started deliberately, casting doubt on politicians’ cries of “arson terrorism” during and in the aftermath of efforts to contain the flames.

“When I don’t know, I say I don’t know. I’m not embarrassed – even ‘I don’t know’ is an answer,” said chief fire investigator Herzl Aharon, according to Channel 2.

“We still don’t know anything. I wish I had a direction,” Aharon said. “I go to a place and get an insight — and then I go to another place and everything changes. This is what you call a illusion of the topography, the bedlam of the mountainous region, and it is very difficult to investigate.”

The Israel Police said Thursday that 29 of the 39 most serious fires are being treated as arson or suspected arson, and dozens of locations were found in which attempted arson did not develop into a full scale blaze. By Tuesday, police had arrested at least 35 people on suspicion of arson or incitement to arson.

Fires rage in Zichron Yaakov on Tuesday, November 22, 2016 (screen capture: Channel 2)
Fires rage in Zichron Yaakov on Tuesday, November 22, 2016 (screen capture: Channel 2)

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said that 40-50 percent of the 39 significant blazes referenced by the police were likely started deliberately.

But, Channel 2 said Saturday, just 10 people are still in custody for suspected arson, and the rest of the detainees were released unconditionally. Only two indictments have been filed, one of them for burning garbage. There are no suspects in the largest and most dangerous fires in Haifa and Zichron Ya’akov, the channel reported, nor are there any suspects — or even definitive proof that arson was involved.

Israeli firefighters work to extinguish a flame in a home in Haifa, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Israeli firefighters work to extinguish a flame in a home in Haifa, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

“We would do well to dispense as as possible with the widespread tradition in Israel of determining whether something is a terrorist incident long before it is proven to be so,” said Yoram Schweitzer, an expert in counterterrorism at the Institute for National Security Studies.

“We should wait patiently, despite the mob clamor for blood and the fervor of politicians to point the finger at entire groups when it is clear that these were acts by individuals, as this only helps those who want to cause provocation.”

 

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