Over 75,000 evacuated from Haifa; fires rage in Galilee, Jerusalem foothills; Druze villagers open homes to evacuees as Palestinian firefighters pitch in” ⇒ THE TIMES OF ISRAEL
Israeli security officials warned against jumping to conclusions about the cause of the wave of fires that has struck Israel in recent days, Channel 10 reported late Thursday.
The fires have cut a path of destruction across several of the country’s forests, and in several places entered residential areas. More than 75,000 residents were evacuated from Haifa, the country’s third-largest city, on Thursday as dozens of fire crews and 12 fire-fighting planes battled to halt the blaze that was tearing through some of the city’s mountainside neighborhoods adjacent to the Carmel Forest.
All three called the alleged arson “terrorism” on Thursday.
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Alemneh Wase on Israel fires
Several arsonists have been caught, Arabs among them, police officials said, though they did not identify the suspects. Meanwhile, many Arabic-speaking social media users in Israel and abroad have cheered on the fires, causing the Arabic-language hashtag label “Israel is burning” to reach the third-most trending tag on Twitter in several nearby Arab countries.
But according to security officials early Friday, the evidence for a widespread campaign of arson remains ambiguous. Investigators have said a large portion of the blazes, as many as half by some accounts, have clearly been caused by accidents and/or the exceptionally dry and windy weather of the last few days, while some indicate arson, and still others are under investigation.
Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich established a special investigative unit on Thursday to determine the cause of the fires and help locate arsonists. Earlier Thursday, he acknowledged arson “in some cases… presumably out of nationalistic motives.”
In the field, firefighters continued to focus their attention on Haifa, where tens of thousands feared for their homes late Thursday as a forest fire was blown across at least 11 city neighborhoods that border on the Carmel Forest.
No one has yet been killed in the massive spate of fires, which has claimed dozens of homes in communities from the northern Galilee to the Jerusalem hills. But officials said many dozens have been injured. In Haifa alone, over 130 were treated for smoke inhalation during Thursday.