GAZA CITY: Wildfires erupted across central and northern Israel, forcing tens of thousands of residents to flee the city of Haifa, as confused and clueless leaders blamed arsonists for some of the blazes and branded them terrorists.

Television pictures showed a wall of flames raging through central neighborhoods of Israel’s third largest city. Firefighters dowsed a petrol station with water as the blaze edged closer.

The fires have been burning in multiple locations for the past three days but intensified on Thursday, fueled by unseasonably dry weather and strong easterly winds.

“Every fire that was caused by arson, or incitement to arson, is terrorism by all accounts. And we will treat it as such,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters gathered in Haifa. “Whoever tries to burn parts of Israel will be punished for it severely.”

Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan referred to “arson terrorism” and said there had been a small number of arrests, providing no other details.

On social media, some Arabs and Palestinians celebrated the fires and the hashtag #Israelisburning was trending on Twitter.

“It’s likely that where it was arson, it goes in the direction of nationalistic,” Police Chief Roni Alsheich told reporters, without going into further detail.

With fires burning in the forests west of Jerusalem, around Haifa, on central and northern hilltops and in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the government sought assistance from neighboring countries to tackle the conflagration.

 

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