(JNS.org) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that any brushfires resulting from arsonists will be considered terrorism.
“Every fire that was the result of arson or incitement to arson is terror in every way and we’ll treat it as such. Anyone who tries to burn parts of the state of Israel will be severely punished,” Netanyahu said.
About 1,500 fires have broken out in Israel since Tuesday, and it is now believed that at least half of them were the work of arsonists, Israel Hayom reported.
More than 60,000 people were evacuated Thursday from Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city, in what officials called the largest civilian mobilization in Israel’s history. Around 600-700 homes were damaged in the fires, with 37 completely destroyed, Haifa officials said. By Friday, all Haifa residents were cleared to return to their homes.
“The public is asked to continue to be alert and take personal responsibility and show an abundance of caution when dealing with anything related to using fire and fire safety,” Israel Police said in a statement.
A major fire broke out Friday in the mountains outside of Jerusalem near Ma’ale Hahamisha, where nearly 20 planes were battling the blaze. Earlier Friday, a separate fire destroyed an estimated 10 homes in the same area.
According to Israeli officials, more than a dozen people have been taken into custody for starting fires near Haifa and elsewhere. Israel has been plagued by extremely dry and windy weather that has exacerbated the fire conditions across the country.
“We believe there are arsonists out there, but also weather conditions allow this to spark [without human actions],” Jerusalem Police Chief Yoram Halevy told Army Radio.