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Netanyahu: Israel will cut through red tape 'cruelty' to aid fire victims

By
Allen Cone
An Israeli stands Sunday by a house destroyed by a fire in the Jewish settlement Hamalish in the West Bank. Several firebombs were found in the area of the settlement where 45 homes were damaged and 18 completely destroyed. Police have arrested 24 suspects in arson cases that have ravished Israel and the West Bank. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI
An Israeli stands Sunday by a house destroyed by a fire in the Jewish settlement Hamalish in the West Bank. Several firebombs were found in the area of the settlement where 45 homes were damaged and 18 completely destroyed. Police have arrested 24 suspects in arson cases that have ravished Israel and the West Bank. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

HAIFA, Israel, Nov. 27 (UPI) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to "cut through the cruelty of the bureaucracy" to assist victims affected by fires throughout the nation last week.

At his weekly cabinet meeting held in Hafia on Sunday, Netanyahu said he wants to help those whose homes and businesses were destroyed.

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Netanyahu said he spoke with Rama Ben-Zvi, whose popular restaurant in the Jerusalem hills was destroyed by fire. He said he told her the government would help rebuild the restaurant.

Several thousand Haifa residents were allowed to return to their homes on Friday after being evacuated Thursday. But fires raged around Jerusalem, in northern Israel and in parts of the occupied West Bank.

Natanyahu said the government was working to combat the fires and officials were "enforcing the law."

"The government will confront with all its power anyone who intentionally or through carelessness sets a fire, or anyone inciting others to set a fire," he said.

Israeli police have arrested 24 people involving 45 cases of suspected arson, including 18 Arab-Israelis. So far, two have admitted to arson.

A Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset accused Netanyahu of achieving "political gains out of an unfortunate state of events."

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"The Israeli ministers not only blamed Palestinians for igniting the fires, but Mr. Netanyahu, the prime minister, and Aryeh Deri, the internal affairs minister, suggested revoking the citizenship of anyone who lit fires," said Jamal Zahalka, a Knesset member of the Joint List, a coalition of Arab Palestinian political parties and leader of the Balad faction, told Al Jazeera. "They were targeting Palestinians of course. They didn't suggest that for those who burned the Dawabsheh family one year ago."

Palestinian firefighters have helped Israeli crews in the efforts. The Palestinian Authority has also provided assistance.

Israel has received assistance from several governments, including Cyprus, France, England, Greece, Turkey, Italy, Russia and the United States.

Natanyahu thanked them and said he wants to set up an international fire fighting force to coordinate disaster response and share the cost of new equipment.

"I have spoken to a number of leaders in the region, who have expressed interest in the idea," he said.

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