Foreign planes combat Israel wildfires as arrests made

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HAIFA: Foreign firefighting planes on Friday helped Israel tackle a wave of wildfires that have forced tens of thousands to flee their homes, as police announced a dozen related arrests.

Faced for the past four days with blazes across the country fed by drought and high winds, Israel received airborne assistance from Russia, Turkey, Greece and Croatia.

The flames in many places appeared to be easing somewhat despite the persistent wind, but a new fire erupted close to Jerusalem on Friday afternoon that the emergency services said was apparently started deliberately.

“Things can change and develop as we speak,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told the Agency.

Support from France, Spain and others was due while a US Supertanker, considered the largest firefighting aircraft in the world, was expected to arrive Friday night.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had also accepted pledges of support from Arab neighbours Jordan and Egypt, though the two governments declined to comment.

On the ground, Palestinian firefighters on Thursday night joined the Israelis, sending four fire engines to the northern city of Haifa and four more to the village of Beit Meir, near Jerusalem.

In nearby Nataf along the border with the occupied West Bank, a new fire broke out on Friday afternoon, with 20 planes and more than a dozen firecrews including four Palestinians trying to calm the blaze.

Fire department spokesman Kayed Daher said they believed the fire was caused by a Molotov cocktail thrown from a neighbouring Palestinian town.

In the country´s third city Haifa, where tens of thousands had been evacuated Thursday from the path of towering flames which threatened entire neighbourhood, residents started to assess the damage after police gave them permission to return.

The fires in the mixed Arab and Jewish city were “under control” on Friday, Rosenfeld said, but Daher said dozens of houses were completely destroyed.

The air was still thick with smoke, an Agency correspondent in Haifa said Friday, with the scale of the damage likely to become clear in the coming days.