JERUSALEM, Nov 26 – Israel stepped up efforts on Saturday to extinguish wildfires that have been scorching large swathes of the country and said its security forces had arrested more than 10 suspected Palestinian arsonists.
While many hotspots have been contained, new conflagrations spread throughout north and central Israel and parts of the occupied West Bank for a fifth straight day.
Firefighters battled the flames with support from Palestinian firemen and emergency teams from Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Italy, Russia and Turkey. An advanced supertanker airplane sent from the United States carried out its first mission late in the day, dousing an area near the main highway connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Unseasonably dry weather and easterly winds helped kindle the fires, which erupted on Tuesday and stretched across half the country.
Some of the blazes appeared to have been set intentionally, something Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called “arson-terrorism” that was carried out by “elements with great hostility toward Israel”.
Israel’s military said that over the past few days, security forces had arrested more than 10 suspected Palestinian arsonists who were attempting to ignite fires. Three of them, a military spokeswoman said, had been caught with two bottles of gasoline, an empty gasoline bottle, gloves and lighters in their possession.
There has been no official response from Palestinian leaders, who sent rescue teams to help fight the fires. But Ayman Odeh, a leading Israeli Arab politician, has rejected the suggestion that Arabs were responsible for arson attacks and accused the Israeli government of taking advantage of the situation to incite against the Arab minority.