As firefighters battled unrelenting wildfires for the fourth day – from the Galilee, through Haifa and up to the Jerusalem Hills – the first flames leapt up early Friday, Nov. 25, outside Kiryat Gath in the southern Lachish district.
In the Jerusalem Hills, the firefighting planes taking off at first light to extinguish the flames threatening Beit Meir spotted dark figures constantly rekindling fires when they were dampened. Police gave chase and captured two of the arsonists. The residents were evacuated when the fires hemming them in came under control.
Altogether 10 suspects are now in custody, three were caught on the loose in Galilee in possession of fire accelerants.
The disaster has claimed more than 100 people injured, most from smoke inhalation, but no fatalities, thanks mainly to the heroic efforts of the fully-stretched out firefighters and volunteers, many of whom have not slept for three nights.
Azerbaijan joined half a dozen countries sending planes to support Israel’s fleet of aerial fighters. The giant 747 Super-tanker which can carry 94,000 liters of water arrives from Colorado, US, Friday night. Thursday night, eight fire engines with teams, volunteered by the Palestinian Authority went into action over Haifa and the Jerusalem Hills.
More than 80,000 people in Haifa and other stricken places spent another wretched night away from their blackened homes and towns. Although the government promises financial aid as needed, and offers pour in to put up the homeless in kibbutzim and the formerly missile-stricken towns in the south, the refugees don’t know when they can go back or, in many cases, rebuild their homes.
They were not comforted by the reassuring statements issued Thursday by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Home Security Minister Gilead Erdan, from which they could infer that the government was taken by surprise by the arson offensive, which accounted for at least half of the outbreaks.
A controlling hand was almost certainly behind the individuals or groups who ignited and reignited hundreds of fires up and down the country. They exploited the exceptionally windy and dry weather to sow acres of charred destruction across Israel. But no warning of the impending disaster came from the Shin Bet domestic security service or Military Intelligence (AMAN).
One of the former Shin Bet heads, Israeli Hasson commented that this was the first time Palestinian extremists had used a “weapon of mass destruction.”