Wildfires blazed across Israel for the third day on Thursday amid growing accusations of arson.
According to Israeli Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan, “Almost 50 percent of the fires are apparently arson,” exacerbated by unfavorable weather conditions.
Help from numerous European countries has been enlisted to fight the flames, including Cyprus, Russia, Italy, Croatia and Greece, as fires spread across vast areas of central and northern Israel, and parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Dry air conditions, heavy winds, and a lack of rainfall contributed to the fires’ spread, according to weather experts.
While there have been no reported deaths or injuries, dozens of properties have been damaged or ruined, and thousands have evacuated their homes.
Four Palestinians were arrested “in connection with one of the large fires,” the Washington Post reported, and numerous Israeli officials blamed arson for the outbreak. Some officials seemingly singled out the country’s non-Jewish members as culprits.
“Only those to whom the country does not belong are capable of burning it,” said Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of a far-right Jewish Home party that is known for supporting the advancement of Israeli settlements.
On Thursday, flames reached the northern city of Haifa, prompting the evacuation of the city’s University.
Haifa mayor Yonah Yahav said there are indications that one of the fires was caused after “someone tossed a cigarette in an area full of oil and flammable fluids” in an industrial zone.
A senior firefighter in Haifa reportedly told Army Radio, “ “I know for a fact that they tried to set fire to the department’s station in Haifa deliberately to cause the Haifa fire department to be paralyzed.”
In 2010, a fire just south of Haifa ravaged across a large forest in Mount Carmel, killing 44 people, making it the deadliest in Israeli history.