Israel TEL AVIV, Israel At least a dozen suspects were arrested for arson-related offenses after wildfires forced the partial evacuation of Israel’s third-largest city, officials said Friday.
Israeli officials have suggested that Arab assailants were to blame for igniting the fires vowing that any perpetrators would be treated as terrorists.
Upward of 60,000 were forced to evacuate their homes in Haifa and around 95 people have been treated for smoke inhalation after the fires tore across the country’s north, center and parts of the occupied West Bank over the past three days.
Meteorologists have said Israel’s dry and windy weather has been at least partially responsible for spreading the fires, but Israeli officials have arrested at least 12 people on suspicion of arson or incitement to arson.
“Every fire that was caused by arson, or incitement to arson, is terrorism by all accounts and we will treat it as such,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev told Israel’s Army Radio that the wildfires “a wave of terror” and said “the punishment for the people responsible needs to be harsh.”
On social media, some people celebrated the fires under the #Israelisburning hashtag. Netanyahu’s spokesman Ofir Gendelman blamed these tweets on “Arabs and Palestinians.”
Palestinian authorities have offered to provide fire engines and firefighters to help with quelling the blaze, according to the official Palestinian news agency WAFA.
Also involved in the international effort were Russia, France, Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Croatia, Greece and Italy.
Netanyahu has also personally requested assistance from a U.S.-based Boeing 747 that has been converted into the world’s first firefighting “supertanker.” The Global SuperTanker is based in Colorado and was flying to Israel on Friday, although it will initially be kept on standby unless the fires worsen.
The blaze near Haifa was one of around a dozen burning around Israel, its worst bout since a four-day wildfire killed 42 people in 2010.