Middle East World News

Israel fires: Tens of thousands flee as fires hit Haifa

Tens of thousands of people are being evacuated from their homes as wildfires rage through parts of the Israeli city of Haifa.Huge flames are being fanned by hot, dry winds in residential areas in the north of the city of about 300,000.

Fires are also threatening homes near Jerusalem and in the West Bank.

A minister has said that half of the fires were “apparently arson”, but police have not confirmed that any had been started deliberately.

Hundreds of military reservists have been called up to help battle the three-day outbreak of fires.

No deaths or serious injuries have been reported, though the national ambulance service said 35 people had been treated for smoke inhalation.

In Haifa, schools, kindergartens, the university and an old people’s home were evacuated.

Residents loaded up supermarket trolleys with belongings and fled their homes, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Damaged home near NatafImage copyrightEPA

Dozens of homes have been destroyed or damaged

Haifa Mayor Yonah Yahav told Channel 2 TV there were indications that one of the fires started when “someone tossed a cigarette in an area full of oil and flammable fluids” in an industrial zone.

Further south, Highway 443 – which links Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, crossing through the West Bank – was closed to morning traffic on Thursday as another blaze reached the city of Modi’in.

Homes and cars were damaged, and 300 students were evacuated from a school, in Talmon, an Israel settlement in the occupied West Bank, police said.

Palestinian Civil Defence officers said it had taken them five hours to put out a fire in fields nearby on Wednesday.

Several countries – including Cyprus, Russia, Italy, Croatia and Greece – have sent help and equipment, including aircraft, to help tackle the blazes.

Plane drops fire retardant near NatafImage copyrightEPA

Several countries have sent equipment, including aircraft, to help tackle the fires

Four Palestinian have been arrested and are due to appear in court on suspicion of starting a bonfire negligently.

“Almost 50% of the fires are apparently arson,” Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan told Army Radio.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the Jewish Home party, said on Twitter in Hebrew: “Only those to whom the country does not belong are capable of burning it.”

Meanwhile, the Arabic-language hashtag #Israel_on_fire began trending, with the majority of tweets expressing pleasure over the outbreak.

In 2010, 42 people died in a fire on Mount Carmel, just south of Haifa.

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