Haifa fires: Tens of thousands of Israelis flee city

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A fir burns in Haifa, Israel, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. Israeli police have arrested four Palestinians in connection with one of several large fires that damaged homes and prompted the evacuation of thousands of people in the past few days. Police are investigating the causes, including possible arson. Windy and hot weather have helped fan the flames. The blazes started three days ago near Jerusalem and in the north. Hundreds of homes were damaged. Russia, Italy and other countries are assisting the Israeli firefighters. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Cii Radio| Sabera Sheik Essop| 25 November 2016| 24 Safar 1438

Netanyahu threatens those responsible for the fires with “full legal force” as smoke transforms northern city’s skyline.

Tens of thousands of Israelis have been fleeing wildfires in the northern city of Haifa, with the prime minister warning that any proof of arson would be treated as “terrorism”.

Dry conditions after a two-month drought, in addition to strong winds, have fuelled the fires, which have also spread to other parts of the country.

Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday said that anyone who may have started fires deliberately would be punished.
“We are facing arsonist terror. In front of arsonist terror we are also facing incitement and also arson. For us they are the same. And we will bring our full legal force to get those responsible,” he said.

“It’s a crime in every possible way and for us, it is also terror in every possible way. People can get burnt. It has already happened.”

Thousands evacuated
The smoke, which has transformed Haifa’s skyline, forced authorities to order about 80,000 people to leave the city, where several homes have been destroyed.

Firefighters were working to douse the flames but some homes in the worst-affected areas were already beyond repair.

The main highway between Haifa and Tel Aviv shut down for some time on Thursday, while authorities tried to put out the flames.

Homes have also been damaged in fires affecting parts of the occupied West Bank and an in area close to Jerusalem, where some properties were lost in the blaze.

Israeli authorities arrested four Israeli Palestinians but a judge released them soon afterwards citing a lack of evidence.

Micky Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesperson, said: “At the moment we are investigating how the fires began. We strongly believe that the fires could’ve been started by individuals who fled the scenes.

“There are a number of reports that we’ve received, and therefore, at the moment we continuing to both put out the flames, deal with the major situation which is taking place in and around the city of Haifa.”

Several nations, including Turkey, have offered assistance, as more strong winds were predicted in the coming days.

Source : Al Jazeera