Israeli security forces have arrested more than 30 people suspected of either arson or encouraging others to commit arson in recent days, as dozens of wildfires have swept through the country, destroying hundreds of homes and businesses and forcing tens of thousands to flee, officials said Saturday evening.
Police have arrested and questioned more than 30 people since Tuesday; as of Saturday night 28 remained in custody, a spokesperson said.
Of the 28 suspects, more than 15 were Palestinians arrested by the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service, an army spokesperson said.
The police refused to comment on how many of those arrested were suspected of arson and how many were suspected of incitement.
The detainees include three people arrested overnight Friday-Saturday in a car near the West Bank city of Ramallah, the army said. Full and empty canisters of gasoline, rags, gloves and lighters were found in the vehicle.
Another suspect detained Saturday was identified by an official from the Israel Parks and Nature Authority as the person who set fire to brush in Begin National Park near the West Bank city of Bethlehem.
The suspect, a 44-year-old residents of the nearby Palestinian village of Husan, was picked up as he returned home, police said.
Bottles full of gasoline were also found near the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Shomron on Friday, an army spokesperson said.
On Friday and Saturday, seven suspects were brought before judges in northern Israel to have their remands extended for alleged arson attempts.
A 22-year-old from the Arab city of Nazareth was brought before a judge in the city’s district court on Saturday for allegedly starting a fire in the Fahora neighborhood of Nazareth the day before.
Also on Saturday, a Nazerth District Court judge ordered a Kafr Kanna resident, 22, to remain in police custody for an alleged arson attempt near the Beit Keshet kibbutz on Thursday.
On Friday, a judge ruled to keep another resident of Kafr Kanna in his 20s accused of starting a fire in a forest near Beit Keshet in police custody until Sunday, police said.
A 16-year-old and 23-year-old from the Druze village of Sajur also had their remand extended for allegedly starting a fire between his city and the Druze village of Beit Jann.
Two men from the Bedouin city of Bir al-Maksur in northern Israel will also remain in police custody until Monday for allegedly starting a fire in the Alon Hagalil forest in the Galilee.
In addition, police on Saturday night planned to request that a 24-year-old Bedouin man remain in custody for a Facebook post they said encourages other to commit arson, but which members of the Arab community have said was meant to be facetious. Seen by The Times of Israel, the post concludes with a hashtag “Sarcasm, not serious.”
Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich said Friday night that investigators know who set a fire massive blaze in the woods on the Jerusalem hills near Nataf, which also spread to other communities. He said the authorities “were prepared to thwart” those involved through “deterrence and catching suspects, through observers and patrols in the sky and on land.”
However, given the nature of the crime, the arson attempts proved difficult to spot before they happen, he said.
“These are very simple terror attacks,” Alsheich told Army Radio. “Generally the attackers themselves know about it only a few minutes beforehand, so we can’t make preventative arrests.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday there was “no doubt” some of the fires were started deliberately. “There is a price to pay for the crimes committed, there is a price to pay for arson terrorism,” he said.