Firefighters on top of Israeli bushfires

Firefighters on top of Israeli bushfires

06 Dezember 2010

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Israel —  Israeli fire chief Shimon Romach said crews had gained control of the fire, which killed 41 people.

“We have gained control of the fire, I say this with a restrained smile,” he said.

“People have given their all to get to this moment but you can’t have a real smile on a day like this.”

But fire services spokesman Boaz Rakiya has warned the fire could flare up again.

Politicians and pundits have demanded the resignation of some officials for their failure to quell the inferno.

Many of the dead were prison guards whose bus was caught in the flames.

The guards were on their way to evacuate the Damon Prison in the Carmel mountains in northern Israel when their bus became trapped in the inferno after a burning tree fell across the road.

Some died inside the vehicle while 14 bodies were found on the ground outside.

Some of the men were apparently young cadets and trainees on one of their first big jobs.

The flames also engulfed 12,000 acres of woodland, destroyed millions of trees and gutted dozens of homes.

Criticism also came from inside Mr Netanyahu’s fractious ruling coalition.

“We need to take stock nationally as to how we as such an advanced sophisticated state achieved such a resounding failure,” Yitzhak Herzog of the centre-left Labour Party told Army Radio.

Most critics targeted interior minister Eli Yishai, who oversees the firefighters.

Mr Netanyahu convened his cabinet on Sunday (local time) in Tirat Carmel, a fire-stricken town, and pledged to rebuild the area quickly.

Ministers approved an initial special emergency aid package of 60 million shekels ($16.5 million).

Global aid

The fires led to a global effort to help Israel, with Germany, Switzerland and Azerbaijan expected to join a dozen other nations that have pledged help.

Help from unexpected quarters came from the occupied West Bank, where Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas dispatched three firetrucks and crew to the Haifa area.

Mr Abbas expressed condolences to Mr Netanyahu for the Israelis killed in the fire on Thursday.

In contrast, Ismail Haniyeh, the Islamist Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, a territory partly blockaded by Israel, said the fire was “a punishment by God” against the Jewish state.

A Haifa court ordered two teenagers suspected of starting the blaze through negligence to be held until Wednesday (local time).

Both were accused of having failed to extinguish a camp fire which police believe led to the conflagration.

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