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Israeli forces detain 4 Palestinians over suspicions of arson as wildfires continue to spread

Nov. 24, 2016 7:09 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 27, 2016 3:22 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli forces detained on Thursday four Palestinians on suspicion of arson, which Israeli authorities suspect caused wildfires to raze through land across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory for the third consecutive day, while Palestinian authorities have agreed to assist Israel in helping put out the fires that have continued to spread.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that Israel Police Chief Roni Alsheich confirmed the detentions in connection to the fires, while Hebrew language media reported that Palestinians from the occupied West Bank were detained in northern Israel. No more information has been released concerning the identities of the detainees or what reasons Israeli authorities have to believe they were behind the fire.

Israeli authorities have claimed that the fire was started by "political arson" against the Israeli state. However, other sources have said the fires were likely caused by a combination of extreme winds and a drought.

Meanwhile, the spokesperson of the Palestinian Civil Defense, Nael al-Azzeh, told Ma’an on Thursday that Palestinian authorities agreed to provide support to Israel by sending firefighting crews to help put out fires erupting across Israeli and Palestinian cities in Israel.

Al-Azzeh added that Palestinian crews would be sending support Thursday night following coordination with Israeli authorities to permit their entry into Israel.

According to Haaretz, Russia, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Croatia, and Cyprus are expected to send 10 airplanes to assist in controlling the spread of the fire in Israel.

In the northern West Bank district of Nablus, a fire broke out in agricultural lands between the villages of Deir Sharaf and Sabastiya, and near the illegal Israeli settlement of Shavei Shomron on Thursday evening. According to the head of the Nablus fire department, Rames al-Dile, the fire broke out in bushes and was pushed towards the trees by winds.

Al-Dile expressed worry that the fire could reach a gas station only a few dozen meters away from the flames, adding that Nablus firefighters had arrived at the scene and have been attempting to control the fire.

Story continues below.

Earlier in the day, bushes caught fire near the illegal Israeli settlement of Nirit in Nablus, prompting Israeli authorities to evacuate the settlement, Israeli media reported, while a fire ravaged a chicken coop in the village of al-Yasiriya in the southern West Bank district of Hebron, killing at least 4,000 chickens, according to the Palestinian Civil Defense.

Palestinian firefighters also successfully controlled a fire in the al-Janiya village in the West Bank district of Ramallah on Wednesday. The fire had been pushed down the En Qinya mountains by winds.

According to a statement released by the public relations department of the Palestinian Civil Defense, it took Palestinian firefighters five hours to control the fire, while the crews remained until the early morning.

An estimated area of 400 dunams of land (99 acres) in the Ramallah and al-Bireh district were destroyed by the fire.

The mass fire ripping through Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory has seen some 60,000 residents forced to evacuate their homes, according to Haaretz.

According to Israeli media outlet Ynet, the fires had initially broke out near the Paz Bridge in the northeastern part of Haifa city, causing vehicles and buildings to catch on fire, and quickly spread towards Jerusalem.

Haaretz reported that Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan announced that the fires were expected to continue until next week as a result of heavy winds.

Meanwhile, according to the Times of Israel, Israel’s ultra right Education Minister Naftali Bennett used the occasion to point blame at Palestinians for the devastating fire, saying that “only someone who this land does not belong to would be capable of setting fire to it,” implying both that Palestinians were responsible for the fires and that Palestinians do not have any attachment to the land in Israel, from where some 700,000 Palestinians were displaced during the establishment of Israel in 1948.

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