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Israeli forces detain 16 Palestinians over suspicions of starting fires in Israel, West Bank

Nov. 25, 2016 12:30 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 27, 2016 3:22 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli forces detained at least 16 Palestinians across Israel and the occupied West Bank on Thursday and Friday over suspicions of starting fires that erupted in Haifa and have continued to spread for the fourth consecutive day.

Israeli media reported on Friday that three Palestinian workers were detained in the Haifa district over suspicions of arson. The Palestinians had reportedly entered Israel without permits.

Another 11 Palestinians were detained by Israeli forces in Israel and the Jerusalem area.

Meanwhile, in the occupied West Bank district of Ramallah, Israeli forces detained a Palestinian for allegedly attempting to start a fire near the illegal Israeli settlement of Kochav Yaakov, an Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an.

The spokesperson did not identify the Palestinian detained in Ramallah, however, locals told Ma’an that Sayel Darwish Jarabaa, 60, was detained from the Beitin village in northern Ramallah late Thursday for allegedly attempting to start a fire. Jarabaa is the father of Saji Jarabaa, who was killed by Israeli forces two-and-a-half years ago.

Israeli media also reported a detention of a 24-year-old Palestinian from the city of Rahat in the Negev region of southern Israel for alleged “incitement” over a Facebook post reportedly encouraging others to start fires.

Locals identified the detainee as journalist Anas Abu Daabis. According to Israeli media outlet Ynet, Abu Daabis is the son of a senior member of the Islamic Movement in Israel.

However, Israeli media later reported that his detention came after Israeli authorities mistranslated his post, which read “what kind of ignorance and lack of awareness are we facing? Our country is on fire and the Arabs are celebrating!” Abu Daabis was referring to statements made by Palestinians insinuating that the fire was revenge for Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

“It’s a wonder when the brain stops working and turns into an idiot,” the post added, while also referring to other Palestinians who have linked the banning of the use of loudspeakers to broadcast the adhan -- call to prayer -- in Israel with the spread of the fires.

The Islamic Movement also condemned the detention in a statement, saying that Abu Daabis used the post to condemn Palestinians celebrating the fires, and not to incite others to ignite them. They demanded his immediate release from police custody, and added that the translators should be held accountable “who obviously don’t know anything about the Arabic language.”

Israeli authorities have claimed that the fires were 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.

On Thursday, 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.

Meanwhile, Palestinian authorities provided support to Israel on Thursday night by sending firefighting crews to help put out fires erupting across Israeli and Palestinian cities in Israel.

According to Haaretz, Russia, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Croatia, and Cyprus also sent airplanes to assist in controlling the spread of the fire in Israel.

Israeli media also reported that Egypt and Jordan have offered to provide assistance to Israel to help extinguish the fires. Egypt was expected to send two firefighting helicopters, while Jordan has offered to send firetrucks.

Egyptian military sources told Ma'an that Egyptian President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi ordered urgent aid to be sent to Israel, noting that Egypt has also sent large quantities of fire extinguishing material to Israel.

While the fire has spread into Jerusalem and parts of the occupied West Bank, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the wildfire in Haifa has been controlled, but 35 firefighting teams are expected to remain, including four from the occupied Palestinian territory.

A spokesperson of the Israeli fire and rescue authority confirmed that firefighters were able to put out many of the fires that had broken out in neighborhoods in Haifa with the help of Palestinian civil defense crews, and Greek and Croatian airplanes. Many residents have been allowed back into their homes.

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.

Wildfires also spread across the occupied West Bank, from the northern district of Nablus to Hebron in the southern West Bank.

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.

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