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Fires rage near Jerusalem-area towns, prompting evacuations; arson feared

Residents of Kibbutz Ma’ale Hahamisha evacuated; Jerusalem-Tel Aviv train halted, further blazes in northern West Bank; authorities suspect fires caused by arson or negligence

View of a large fire that broke near Neve Ilan, outside Jerusalem on June 09, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
View of a large fire that broke near Neve Ilan, outside Jerusalem on June 09, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A major fire broke out in forested areas west of Jerusalem on Wednesday afternoon, prompting the Israel Fire and Rescue Services to evacuate dozens of residents in the area.

Later in the afternoon, several more fires broke out in the northern West Bank, including large blazes near the settlements of Ariel and Shavei Shomron.

Fire and Rescue Commissioner Dedi Simchi said the fires in both areas were apparently man-made and probably acts of arson. “We did not see any lightning in the skies over the country today, and we will clarify if this was arson or not later,” he told Channel 13.

According to the fire services, the Jerusalem-area fire broke out on Mount Haruah in the Jerusalem hills, near the Neve Ilan moshav.

A firefighting plane works on extinguishing a forest fire raging in the area of the Arab-Israeli village of Abu Ghosh near Jerusalem, on June 9, 2021. (Photo by Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

“The fire is closing in on homes in Abu Ghosh and Yad Hashmona,” the fire authority said. “Many firefighting forces are working alongside four firefighting planes in order to prevent the fire from spreading to those homes.”

Later in the afternoon, 29 teams of firefighters and 10 planes joined the effort to extinguish the massive blaze. Firefighting forces from other areas of Israel were also called in to assist in tackling the flames.

The fire services later ordered the evacuation of all residents of Kibbutz Ma’ale Hahamisha in the Judean hills. A second blaze reportedly broke out on the nearby Mount Eitan.

Roads and highways in the area have been shut, including a portion of Route 1, the main highway connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

At 2 p.m., the Israel Railways announced that it was halting trains on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv line due to the fire.

The ongoing corruption trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem was halted shortly before 3 p.m. due to the blaze.

View of a large fire that broke near Neve Ilan, outside Jerusalem on June 09, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A heavy pall of smoke hung over the Jerusalem area and the Environmental Protection Ministry recommended that people suffering from heart and lung disease, the elderly, children, and pregnant women remain indoors and avoid going outside unless absolutely necessary.

It also recommended that the rest of the population limit outdoor physical activity, close windows, and use air conditioners.

Large teams of firefighters and volunteers were also working to put out the fires in the West Bank.

Smoke rises from the site of a wildfire behind the village of Abu Gosh near Jerusalem, Wednesday, June 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

A resident of Nataf, a moshav in the Judean hills, told Walla that he saw the flames and called the police.

“I raced toward the fire to see what was happening,” he said. “There was a large flame and smoke… when I got closer I was scared it would reach me and I quickly turned around. It very quickly became a huge fire.”

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