Netanyahu: Deliberate Israel fires to be treated as 'terror'
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday if proof was discovered that any of the fires across Israel were deliberately sparked they would be treated as acts of "terror".
Netanyahu did not say whether he believed the six fires in the northern city of Haifa and others were caused by arsonists, but said his government had noticed "encouragement to arson" on social media.
"Every fire caused by arson or incitement to arson is terror and will be treated as such," he told reporters in Haifa near the scene of the fires.
Israeli police on Thursday said they arrested four Palestinians for allegedly starting one of the fires near Jerusalem.
Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan said up to half of a spate of fires had been "arson terror", while another minister appeared to point a finger at the country's Arab minority - drawing fierce rebukes from Arab Israeli leaders.
"It is clear that many fires started as deliberate arson,” he said.
Ayman Odeh, the head of the Arab block in the Israeli parliament, said in a statement the immediate accusations amounted to "incitement" against Arabs.
He pointed out that many of the fires had disproportionately affected Arab areas, including in Haifa where he is from.
"We have lived in this country for hundreds and thousands of years and not burned it," he said.
"This is something that harms all of us. This is not a story of Arab or Jew. Whoever did this is an enemy of all of us."
Meanwhile, Israel accepted an offer by the Palestinian Authority to send four firefighting teams to help combat the blazes across the country, a senior official said on Thursday.
According to Israeli daily Haaretz, the official said that the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories was overseeing the cooperation between the Palestinian and the Israeli fire crews.
Yousef Nassar, the director general of the Palestinian Civil Defense, said the offer of assistance was "a humanitarian message”.
More than 60,000 people have been evacuated from their homes in Haifa, its municipality said, while other fires broke out near Jerusalem and other parts of Israel.
While there were no serious injuries, several dozen people were hospitalised for smoke inhalation.
Meteorologists say the dry weather and strong winds mean conditions are perfect for fires to spread - whether sparked by accident or on purpose.
The series of fires is the worst since 2010, when Israel suffered the single deadliest wildfire in its history.
That blaze burned out of control for four days, killed 42 people and was extinguished only after firefighting aircraft from as far away as the United States arrived and brought it under control.