Israel fires: Dozen suspects arrested on suspicion of arson

Source: BBC

Israeli police have arrested 12 people on suspicion of arson over a series of wildfires that have burned around the country for four days.

Firefighters have brought a blaze under control around the northern city of Haifa, where about 80,000 people were ordered to evacuate.

But officials say several smaller fires are still being tackled in different locations.

The blazes have been fanned by hot, dry weather and high winds.

Several people have been treated for smoke inhalation but no serious injuries have been reported.

Israel’s Fire and Rescue Services operations chief Shmulik Fridman told Israel radio on Friday that more than half the fires had been caused by arson.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that if any of the fires were started deliberately they would be treated as an act of terrorism.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party, hinted at seditious Israeli Arab or Palestinian involvement, Tweeting: “Only those to whom the country does not belong are capable of burning it.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement said Israeli officials were “exploiting the fire” to accuse Palestinians.

War of words: By Yolande Knell, BBC News, Beit Meir

The outbreak of dozens of fires over the past four days is heating up tensions between Jewish Israelis and members of the country’s Arab minority, as well as Palestinians.

With security officials saying many of the fires could have been caused by arson, several Israeli politicians have implicated Arabs.

They note how Arabic social media posts – from around the region – have been celebrating scenes of Israeli cities ablaze.

Some Israeli media added their own fuel, speculating about a possible “fire intifada”, or uprising, after a spate of knife, shooting and car ramming attacks over the past year.

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