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ildfires roared through parts of Israel’s third-largest city on Thursday, forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes as the country’s leaders believe that Muslim terrorists are intentionally setting the fires. Israeli police have arrested four Palestinians in connection with one of several large fires in the past few days.

The fires are rapidly spreading due to dry and windy conditions.

The fire raced through Haifa’s northern neighborhoods, sending panicked residents fleeing from the area.

Several dozen people have been hospitalized for smoke inhalation. In a rare move, Israel called up hundreds of military reservists to join overstretched police and firefighters and was making use of an international fleet of firefighting aircraft sent by a slew of countries, according to reports.

The Haifa blaze was the most serious in a series of fires that have erupted across the country in recent days. On a visit to the area, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said anyone implicated in setting the fires would be punished severely.

“It’s a crime for all intents and purposes and in our opinion it is terror for all intents and purposes,” he said. He said incitement to arson was also playing a role in spreading the fires.

The Times of Israel reports that residents of a total of 11 neighborhoods in the city were told to leave their homes, as fires in at least five locations consumed homes and businesses. By late afternoon, more than 100 people in the Haifa area had been treated for fire-related injuries, mostly smoke inhalation.

 Israel Police chief Roni Alsheich said some of the fires were set by arsonists, “presumably with nationalist motives,” but most were not. He said some suspects were in custody. Top Arab MK Ayman Odeh called the arsonists “enemies of us all.”

Greece, Russia, Cyprus and Turkey were among the nations that sent firefighting planes and other equipment to help fight the fires.

Firefighters have been struggling since Tuesday to keep pace with a spate of brush fires that have popped up around the country, several of which have damaged homes and put people in the hospital for smoke inhalation.

YouTube videos courtesy of Times of Israel

Netanyahu did not elaborate on the identity or motives of the suspected arsonists, but Israeli officials typically use the term “terror” to refer to Arab or Palestinian militant activity.

Israel has been on edge during more than a year of Palestinian attacks, mostly stabbings, that have tapered off, but not halted, in recent months. Netanyahu has blamed Palestinian incitement for fueling those attacks.

Our hearts and prayers go out to our partners in Israel.

God Bless.



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