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Israel to assist firefighting efforts in Greece

"The Government of Israel will stand by Greece’s side in dealing with the immense wildfires" raging in the country, said the Israeli Prime Minister's Office.

A firefighting plane works to extinguish a blazeout in Moshav Kedma, in south-central Israel, May 31, 2021. Photo by Gershon Elinson/Flash90.
A firefighting plane works to extinguish a blazeout in Moshav Kedma, in south-central Israel, May 31, 2021. Photo by Gershon Elinson/Flash90.

Israel is sending two firefighting aircraft to Greece to help combat raging wildfires there, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office announced on Wednesday.

The two planes will depart for Athens early on Thursday morning, and will support Greek firefighters “for as long as needed,” at Greece’s request, the statement said.

The decision to send the aircraft was taken by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in consultation with the defense, foreign and national security ministers.

“The Government of Israel will stand by Greece’s side in dealing with the immense wildfires, and appreciates the contribution of Greece in extinguishing fires in Israel over the last decade,” the statement said.

The Greek wildfires burned for a third day just outside of Athens on Wednesday, destroying forests and homes and spurring evacuations amid a scorching heatwave only expected to intensify on Thursday, with no end in sight. Aircraft from Italy and France joined the efforts on Wednesday as part of an E.U. civil protection mechanism, along with crews from Romania, Poland and Slovakia.

Fires are common in Greece, but hotter and drier summers have exacerbated the situation.

The Israeli assistance comes amid burgeoning ties between the two countries over the last decade and a half in a variety of fields, including tourism, medicine, cybersecurity, energy and defense, and a week before a trilateral summit of the three leaders in Cyprus, where a major energy deal is expected to be signed.

Summit ahead

The trilateral summit is expected to include the signing of an agreement to connect the national electricity grids of the three eastern Mediterranean countries.

The mammoth, E.U.-backed project is going forward as the war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russia fuel a global energy crisis that has hit the European Union hard, spotlighting the continent’s dependence on foreign energy sources.

Cyprus firm EuroAsia Interconnector said on Wednesday that it had awarded French company Nexans a 1.43 billion euro contract for a submarine power cable to connect the three countries’ grids.

The “electricity highway” is set to run for 1,208 kilometers (751 miles) along the Mediterranean sea floor at a depth of more than 3,000 meters (9,850 feet).

Billed as the world’s longest and deepest interconnector project, it aims to “end the energy isolation” of Cyprus and Israel and connect both to the European mainland via the Greek island of Crete. It will have the capacity to supply over three million homes with electricity.

Last month, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said that the relationship between Cyprus, Greece and Israel has developed into a “strategic partnership” based on a shared vision for a thriving eastern Mediterranean.

Earlier this month, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen visited Athens, where he pledged to continue to advance strategic relations with the Hellenic triangle.

His trip was the first official visit by any foreign minister to Athens since last month’s Greek elections, signaling the robust relations between Israel and both Greece and Cyprus.

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