International Community Rallies Round Israel as Fires Rage
— Alan Elsner and Jennifer Packer, The Israel Project
- 42 dead – toll expected to rise
- Turkey, Egypt and Jordan among those sending aid
- Massive Russian firefighting plane on the way
Turkey, Egypt and Jordan were among many countries rushing help to Israel to combat the nation’s worst-ever wildfire which has killed 42 people, destroyed homes and villages, consumed forests and is still threatening the major port city of Haifa.
“We are talking about one of the worst disasters in the country’s history. This is hard day for the entire nation,” said Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Egypt, Jordan and Turkey were quick to offer help to the Jewish state. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and thanked him for his country’s help.
“We very much appreciate this mobilization and I am certain that it will be an opening toward improving relations between our two countries, Turkey and Israel,” Netanyahu said. It was his first conversation with the Turkish leader since the flotilla incident soured relations between the traditional allies earlier this year.”
With several people listed in critical condition and others reported missing, the death toll was expected to rise.
More after the jump.
Emergency services evacuated more than 15,000 people from their homes as flames swept through at least 5,000 acres of woodland. Police arrested two people, residents of a Druze village, on suspicion of setting fires. The Jerusalem Post said they were detained after being seen hurling Molotov cocktails in a forest on a Carmel mountain hilltop.
Israelis watched helplessly as their homes were destroyed by flames hundreds of feet high. Firefighters said one village was burnt to the ground.
The IDF sent soldiers and equipment, including helicopters, bulldozers, medics and army units to combat the blaze. More help came from Greece, Bulgaria which sent 100 firefighters, Spain, Azerbaijan, Romania Russia, Cyprus, France and Britain. The United States also offered aid. Israel is better known for sending its own rescue teams and medical personnel to other countries to help in their disaster-relief efforts.
“The Russians are sending and we are waiting for the biggest firefighting plane in the world… an Antonov with huge firefighting capacity,” Lieberman told Israel Radio.
One of the main country’s highways was closed as trees smoldered and smoke billowed toward the Mediterranean coastline and flames closed in on a hotel and a spa south of the city.
“The size of the fire is huge, the wind is very strong and there is a problem accessing the mountains and valleys,” said Yoram Levi, a spokesman for Israel’s fire and rescue service. “We don’t have big aircraft that can carry a large amount of water. It is not enough for a large-scale fire.”
“As rescuers and firefighters continue in their work, the United States is acting to help our Israeli friends respond to the disaster,” U.S. President Barak Obama said at a candle-lighting ceremony on Thursday marking the Jewish Chanukah holiday.
Jewish organizations in the U.S. and beyond have launched campaigns to help the victims. The Jewish National Fund, which planted a large percentage of Israel’s forests, called for public support.
American firefighters are on alert to join the operation. The Israel Emergency Volunteers Project will coordinate any call up for the volunteers who have been fully trained under the auspices of the EVP.
The Israeli cabinet met on Friday to discuss the crisis with questions being asked about Israel’s preparedness for such disasters.