Lebanon turns to neighbors, but not Israel, for help fighting forest fires
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Lebanon turns to neighbors, but not Israel, for help fighting forest fires

Jerusalem, which in the past has offered disaster aid to countries it doesn’t have diplomatic relations with, not asked and not planning to send help

People inspect the remains of cars and shops that were burned in a wildfire overnight, in the town of Damour just over 15 kilometers south of Beirut, Lebanon, on October 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
People inspect the remains of cars and shops that were burned in a wildfire overnight, in the town of Damour just over 15 kilometers south of Beirut, Lebanon, on October 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Lebanon has turned to its neighbors for help with battling forest fires that have ravaged homes and killed a volunteer firefighter in the Mediterranean country, the premier said on Tuesday.

“We have contacted the Europeans who will send means of help,” Prime Minister Saad Hariri said in comments carried by national news agency NNA.

The Lebanese did not appeal to Israel for help and Jerusalem is currently not planning to send any. The Jewish state has in the past offered various kinds of assistance to states in the region, including those with which it doesn’t have diplomatic relations.

The Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem declined to comment for this article.

The Lebanese-based terror group Hezbollah, whose representatives sit in the country’s parliament, is sworn to Israel’s destruction. Israel has said that in a future conflict it will not distinguish between Beirut and the Iran-backed group.

Dozens of fires have erupted around Lebanon in the past few days, the head of civil defense Raymond Khattar told NNA, amid unusually high temperatures and strong winds.

Thick smoke has been seen drifting over the outskirts of Beirut, over the mountainous Chouf region to its southeast, and the southern city of Saida.

In the Chouf, an area known for its trees, a volunteer firefighter lost his life trying to put out the flames, his family said.

In an area south of Beirut, firefighters have for two days been unable to stop the blaze, which has burnt four homes to the ground and caused dozens to suffer from breathing difficulties, NNA said.

Lebanese firemen rest outside a building that was burned in a wildfire overnight, in the town of Damour, just over 9 miles south of Beirut, Lebanon on October 15, 2019. (AP/Hassan Ammar)

Interior Minister Raya El-Hassan said Cyprus and Greece had responded to Lebanon’s call for help.

“Two Cypriot planes have been working to put out the fires since yesterday,” she said on Twitter.

“Greece has responded to our request and will send two planes to help us,” she added, while Jordan also said it was ready to help.

NNA said the army was working together with helicopters and the Cypriot planes to fight the blaze, with access sometimes impeded by thick smoke and high-voltage power lines.

UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL, whose members usually patrol the country’s southern border with Israel, has also joined in the efforts, the agency said.

In neighboring war-torn Syria, fires also killed two people, Syrian state media said.

Lebanese firemen extinguish a fire in the town of Damour, just over 9 miles south of Beirut, Lebanon on October 15, 2019. (AP/Hassan Ammar)

Flames have ripped through parts of the coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartus, as well as the central province of Homs but most have been brought under control, state news agency SANA said.

Two members of the Latakia forestry department were killed while fighting he blaze, it said.

In Tartus, the fires — mostly stamped out — coincided with the olive harvest, the governor told SANA.

In Homs, trees were burnt and electricity networks disrupted in mountainous areas, the agency reported.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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