Security cam captures apparent arson attempt near Ariel

Three men seem to start fire outside settlement in northern West Bank; blaze extinguished by passing motorists

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Security cameras captured what appeared to be an attempted arson attack outside the Ariel settlement in the West Bank just before 2:00 a.m. Friday.

The video, which was later released on social media, appears to show a group of three men starting a fire in the woods along a highway near the northern West Bank city.

“You can’t see exactly how they started the fire,” a security officer for the settlement says over the surveillance camera footage, “but they started a fire here.”

Once the blaze catches, the men can be seen walking away, in the direction of a Palestinian village nearby.

A group of Israelis who were driving by the scene arrived a short while later and quickly extinguished the fire with water bottles and by stamping out the blaze before it could spread.

An investigation has been launched into the incident, and police are reviewing the footage, a police spokesperson said.

However, no arrests have been made yet, he said.

The alleged arsonists apparently started the blaze on the wrong side of the road, the Ariel security officer said, where the wind blew the flames from the woods towards the road, which prevented it from spreading.

“They’re not professionals,” he surmised.

The area itself was also full of olive trees, which do not catch on fire as easily as pines or some other types of trees that grow in the area, he said.

“Even after four minutes, the fire hasn’t spread,” he said.

As of Friday morning, 12 people have been arrested on the suspicion that they’ve either started fires or have “incited” others to do so, according to police, a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to treat those who are behind part of the wave of fires as “terrorists.”

Two Palestinians who had entered Israel illegally were arrested on Friday morning on suspicion of starting a blaze that destroyed at least 10 homes in the village of Beit Meir in the Jerusalem hills overnight. They were both taken in for questioning, police said.

Among them are six residents of the north, who the Shin Bet security agency and police believe are responsible for starting some of the devastating fires that ripped through Haifa on Thursday, causing the evacuation of 75,000 people and the destruction of hundreds of homes.

One incitement suspect, a resident of the predominantly Bedouin town of Rahat in southern Israel, had posted messages on Facebook calling for further fire attacks, police said. He was to appear Friday in a Beersheba court.

While some of the fires appeared to have been started deliberately, police have been quick to note that many were likely the results of accidents — cooking fires that weren’t extinguished or cigarettes flicked out of windows.

“We believe there are arsonists out there, but also weather conditions that allow this to spark [without human aid],” Jerusalem police chief Yoram Halevy told Army Radio after the first arrests.

On Friday morning officials said that 600 homes had been destroyed in Haifa and that some fires were still burning, but there were no longer any major conflagrations in the city.

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