Israel arrests 22 in suspicious fires, classifies them 'terrorism'

By Allen Cone and Doug G. Ware  |  Updated Nov. 25, 2016 at 6:24 PM
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HAIFA, Israel, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- Nearly two dozen people have been arrested on suspicion of starting fires across Israel this week, which officials on Friday called a form of terrorism.

Three Palestinians were arrested after failing to spark a fire near the settlement of Ariel, and other arsonists were caught in the act in Jerusalem and the surrounding area, The Jerusalem Post reported.

So far, at least 22 people have been arrested on suspicion of arson or incitement to arson.

Moshe Kahlon said to Israel Radio the Haifa firestorm was an "intentional act of arson."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who toured burned buildings in Haifa and met with fire crews, said to the media that every fire caused by arson is terrorism by all accounts.

"There is a price to crime, and there is a price for terror and incitement, and we will exact it," he said. "The instructions are to prosecute anyone committing these acts so that all can see that anyone who tries to burn down the state of Israel will face the fullest punishment."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement said Israel was "exploiting the fire" to accuse Palestinians.

Nevertheless, Palestinian authorities have offered to provide fire engines and firefighters, according to the official Palestinian news agency WAFA.

Help also has been offered from Russia, France, Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Croatia, Greece and Italy.

The United States dispatched the world's largest firefighting plane, the Super Tanker, and 50 firefighters.

Most of the fires were under control by Friday, officials said.

In Haifa, where 60,000 of the 300,000-plus population were ordered to evacuate, firefighters brought the blaze under control.

Overnight several hundred people were evacuated from Beit Meir near Jerusalem after several homes caught fire. A large fire broke out in the vicinity of Maale Hahamisha, just north of Abu Gosh west of Jerusalem, firefighters confirmed.

The situation has been worsened because of hot, dry weather and high winds.

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