Thousands flee as fires ravage Israel

Tens of thousands of people are being evacuated as wildfires rage through parts of Israel’s third largest city of Haifa.

The fires follow a two-month drought and are being fanned by strong winds in the north of the city.

Wildfires are also threatening homes near Jerusalem and in the West Bank.

Israel’s police chief said arson was suspected in some cases and PM Benjamin Netanyahu said any such attacks would amount to “terror.”

“Every fire that was the result of arson or incitement to arson is terror in every way and we’ll treat it as such,” he was quoted by Haaretz newspaper as saying. “Anyone who tries to burn parts of the state of Israel will be severely punished.”

Police chief Roni Alsheich said that if fires had been started deliberately it was “safe to assume… it is politically-motivated”.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing religious Jewish Home party, also appeared to suggest Arab or Palestinian involvement in the fires, writing on Twitter: “Only those to whom the country does not belong are capable of burning it.”

On social media, the Arabic-language hashtag #Israel_on_fire began trending, with most tweets expressing pleasure over the outbreak.

The Palestinian Authority has offered to help Israel’s fire department, a senior Israeli security official told the BBC, but has not yet received a reply.

Meanwhile, hundreds of military reservists have been called up to help battle the three-day outbreak of fires.

More than 130 people have been taken to hospital with minor injuries, mainly from smoke inhalation, but most were later discharged, Haaretz reported.

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