West Bank settlement evacuated in 5th day of Israeli fires

Posted at 11:53 AM, Nov 26, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-26 14:53:39-05

Fires raged in several locations across Israel for a fifth day Saturday, including in a Jewish West Bank settlement where 40 homes were burned and all 1,000-plus of its residents evacuated.

After several days of extended fires that caused major damage in northern Israel and in the Jerusalem area, firefighters have managed to quickly gain control of most of the blazes that have erupted since.

They got a major boost Saturday with the arrival from the United States of the Boeing 747-400 "Supertanker," the world's largest fire-fighting aircraft that is capable of carrying 75 tons of fire retardant. It has already been deployed over the forest area surrounding Jerusalem, joining an international fleet of firefighting aircraft that has arrived to assist.

A special team of neighboring Palestinian firefighters also arrived to help, prompting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to place a rare call to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and thank him for his support in overcoming the fires. With peace talks frozen, the two leaders have had little interaction. Netanyahu's office said he also told Abbas that he appreciated how Arabs, alongside Jews, had both opened their homes to those whose houses were destroyed.

Though no deaths or serious injuries have been caused by the spate of fires, dozens have been hospitalized for smoke inhalation and hundreds of homes have been damaged.

The blazes began four days ago near Jerusalem and backed by dry, windy weather they later spread elsewhere. The most devastating fire hit Israel's third-largest city of Haifa, where more than 60,000 were evacuated and many homes were destroyed.

Initial investigations point to the majority of the fires being caused by arson. The country's leaders claim Arab attackers are behind them, with some calling it a continuation of a year-long campaign of Palestinian stabbing attacks against Israelis.

Overnight, the settlement of Halamish was evacuated after several fires erupted there. Earlier, a large fire swept toward the village of Nataf on the outskirts of Jerusalem, burning a famous restaurant there to the ground. Local witnesses say the blaze was caused by a firebomb hurled from a neighboring Arab village.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said 30 suspects have thus far been arrested on arson charges.

The rash of fires is the worst since 2010, when Israel suffered the single deadliest wildfire in its history. That blaze burned out of control for four days, killed 42 people and was extinguished only after firefighting aircraft arrived from as far away as the United States.