“Every fire that was the result of arson or incitement to arson is terror in every way and we’ll treat it as such. Anyone who tries to burn parts of the State of Israel will be severely punished,” Netanyahu stated.
“It’s likely that there is a nationalist motive in some of the arson cases,” Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich said at a press conference Thursday afternoon, as fires continued to rage in the Haifa area.
Police made several arrests of ‘nationalistically motivated’ Arabs suspected of sparking wildfires across Israel.
“We have a special integrated investigation team that is monitoring everything that is happening across the country. I don’t want to get into questions regarding where [we suspect] arson and where we do not,” Alsheich said.
At least 60,000 Haifa residents were evacuated from their homes, and about 100 people in the vicinity were treated for smoke inhalation. There were no fatalities.
“If this is [confirmed] as arson, it could be nationalistically motivated. It’s certainly not just pyromania. There have been arrests,” he stated.
“I know for a fact that they tried to set fire to the department’s station in Haifa deliberately to cause the Haifa fire department to be paralyzed,” a senior firefighter declared.
Only “someone who this land does not belong to” would have sparked the fires, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, said Wednesday evening.
Unusually dry, windy weather has made it especially difficult to contain the fires. The situation is the most severe since the deadly 2010 forest fires in the Haifa area.
“Every fire caused by arson, or incitement to commit arson, is terrorism for all intents and purposes, and we will bring them to justice,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a press conference Wednesday.
“It’s already pretty clear that some of the fires are the result of arson. As the prime minister said, this is terror by arsonists,” added Interior Minister Gilad Erdan, who confirmed that several arrests were made, although he refused to provide further details at the time.
The situation is also serious in other areas of the country, particularly in Modi’in, the outskirts of Jerusalem and towns in Judea and Samaria.
A number of countries – including Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and Russia – responded to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appeal for help by sending firefighting aircraft. IDF reserves have been called up to assist firefighters.