ISRAEL – Italy, Croatia, Greece and Cyprus have agreed to sent firefighting planes to help Israel battle ongoing wildfires in central Israel as the nation grips with a major heatwave.
Egypt, on the orders of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, had also sent two helicopters to assist Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters. The Palestinian Authority and Russia have also offered help, he said.
“As of this moment, this [containment] is being done in the best possible way, but the challenge is yet ahead of us given the weather conditions, the winds and the extreme heat,” Netanyahu said.
Dozens of homes were destroyed in the fires on Thursday in multiple locations after forested areas near Jerusalem caught fire, causing major damage to small towns along the highway connecting Tel Aviv to the capital, leading to it being temporary cleared of vehicles as a precaution.
Firefighters battled brushfires along the Gaza boundary, as well as near Ben-Gurion International Airport and outside Jerusalem.
Police ordered the evacuation of several communities in the country’s center and south.
Late Thursday night Israeli authorities announced that the fires had been contained, although residents were still not allowed to return.
Israel and the region are gripped by a major heatwave, with temperatures around the country reaching 100 F (38 C) and higher.
A police official said that a fire had almost completely destroyed the village of Mevo Modi’im – a community founded by the late songwriting Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.
Residents of the nearby town of Gimzo evacuated Torah scrolls from the community synagogue as the flames approached.
The fires broke out a day after Israelis marked the minor Jewish festival of Lag Ba’Omer with bonfires.
A Netanyahu spokesman blamed “incendiary balloons launched by Hamas” for fires near the Gaza Strip in southern Israel.
A massive forest fire in 2010 burned for four days on northern Israel’s Mount Carmel, claiming 44 lives and destroying around 12,000 acres, much of it woodland.