Know More About Palestine

Sunday Dec. 5, 2010 8:05 AM (EST+7)

HAIFA, Israel, Dec 4 (Haim Shafir and Ran Tzabar/Reuters) - Israel struggled to contain a huge and deadly forest fire that raged on for a third day on Saturday, despite the efforts of firefighting planes from half a dozen countries.

The worst inferno in Israel's history has killed 41 people, forced 17,000 to flee their homes and destroyed some 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares) of woodland near the port of Haifa. By nightfall it had still not been brought under control.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said two people suspected of starting the blaze through negligence had been arrested. Israel Radio said the suspects were 16-year-old boys from a village bordering on the Carmel region woodlands where the fire was focused.

Regional police commander Roni Atiya said he believed the blaze had spread from a campfire that was not properly extinguished.

It looks as though this is the result of negligence, said Atiya, adding there was no evidence of any link to terrorism.

Foreign firefighting planes joined the battle to contain the blaze after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed for help because of a shortage of such aircraft in Israel.

Planes and helicopters from the United States, Spain, Azerbaijan and Switzerland were expected to join those from Russia, Turkey, Greece, Britain, France and Cyprus, already dumping water on the flames.


Jordan, Egypt and Bulgaria were among other nations rushing in supplies such as flame retardant, fire trucks and crews, to help Israel cope with the conflagration.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also offered to send help, in a rare telephone conversation with Netanyahu. The two were not believed to have spoken since U.S.-sponsored peace negotiations stalled in September.

Abbas voiced condolences to Israel for those who died in the fire. Most were prison cadet trainees on their way to evacuate 500 inmates from a penitentiary.

Netanyahu said he would establish a fleet of firefighter aircraft, which he told Abbas would be made available to Israel's Arab neighbours where necessary. Abbas also offered to send Israel several firetrucks, Israel said.

The Israeli leader hit back at critics charging Israel was caught unprepared to handle the fire despite its technological savvy and smart weaponry.

You cannot extinguish a mega-fire swiftly, Netanyahu told reporters after surveying a disaster scene on Saturday. He said the United States had also sought outside help to cope with natural disaster.

We all get help from others. It's a part of our existence as a global village, Netanyahu said, adding he was very, very grateful for all the aid Israel had received from abroad.

He announced Israel had also chartered a Boeing 747 Supertanker expected to arrive overnight to reinforce fire extinguishing efforts.

Israel's cabinet would also hold its weekly meeting on Sunday in a town affected by the fire in a show of solidarity and come up with a reconstruction plan, Netanyahu said.

(Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)







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