Tax man recognizes arson in more fire-damaged towns
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Tax man recognizes arson in more fire-damaged towns

Decision means victims are entitled to compensation from the state for their losses

An Israeli firefighter inspects the damage at Beit Meir in the Jerusalem hills, on November 25, 2016. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)
An Israeli firefighter inspects the damage at Beit Meir in the Jerusalem hills, on November 25, 2016. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

Israel’s Tax Authority said Wednesday that it has recognized two more fire sites from the deadly wave of blazes that hit last month as arson — meaning that residents will be entitled to state compensation for the losses.

“The Tax Authority announces that due to new information received from the Israel police and the fire services regarding the fires at Beit Meir and in Har Halutz, these were deliberate acts of arson,” a statement said, adding that “these incidents have been declared as damage that entitles compensation according to the laws of property tax and the compensation fund.”

The statement said that these two sites were in addition to the nine announced last month, which included the hard-hit city of Haifa, where 400 to 530 apartments were completely destroyed, the town of Zichron Ya’akov, and the communal settlement of Tal-El, all in the north of the country, Nataf in the Jerusalem Hills and the West Bank settlements of Dolev, Gilon, Talmon, Nirit and Halamish (Neve Tzuf.)

“With the inclusion of Beit Meir and Har Halutz, the authority has now recognized all the fires from the recent wave that are damage entitling compensation,” the statement said.

The Tax Authority statements cited specific fires beginning at specific times.

An Israeli artist stands in his studio, burned in an overnight fire in Beit Meir, outside of Jerusalem on November 25, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
An Israeli artist stands in his studio, burned in an overnight fire in Beit Meir, outside of Jerusalem on November 25, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Normally, losses caused by wildfires are only covered for those who took out extra insurance on top of general property insurance — which covers unlikely events such as natural disasters and plane crashes into buildings.

Financial losses suffered from blazes in those 11 locales are now defined as “war damages” and are therefore covered by an emergency state fund for victims of terror.

While authorities say some fires were likely started by negligence and then bolstered by arson, the Tax Authority announcement means that any damages suffered in the listed locations will be included in state reparations, regardless of whether the specific fire that damaged private property was set intentionally.

In total, 1,773 fires were dealt with by authorities from November 18 to November 26, according to the Fire and Rescue Services spokesman. Police say they suspect several dozen were started by arsonists.

A firefighter plane helps extinguish a fire in the northern Israeli city of Haifa following a wildfire, on November 25, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)
A firefighter plane helps extinguish a fire in the northern Israeli city of Haifa following a wildfire, on November 25, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)

Authorities estimate that some 130,000 dunams (32,124 acres) were destroyed in the blazes, approximately 30 percent more than the 2010 Carmel fire in which 44 people were killed. Haifa officials said fires ravaged some 28,000 dunams (6,900 acres) of land in the city alone. At least 60,000 of the city’s residents were evacuated while firefighters battled to contain a blaze that had entered a dozen of the city’s neighborhoods from the nearby Carmel Forest.

The battle to push back the flames marked among the most difficult operations ever undertaken by Israel’s firefighters. Some 2,000 firefighters battled the fires, many of them working in grueling 24-hour shifts alongside 450 soldiers from the Home Front Command and 69 Cypriot firefighters. In a rare move, the Palestinian Authority also sent fire crews to help.

Fourteen planes from Israel’s firefighting squadron, aided by at least 19 additional planes supplied by ten other nations, carried out some 670 sorties dropping more than 1.62 million liters of liquid and foam over fire-struck areas.

In total, over 20,000 police officers took part in operations across the country, police said.

In all, at least 35 people were arrested in connection with the fires but almost all of them have since been released.

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