Palestinians arrested as wildfires engulf vast swathes of Israel
Fires started near Jerusalem three days ago and have spread across vast swaths of land, leaving hundreds of homes damaged and forcing the evacuation of thousands of people.
Israeli police said they have arrested four Palestinians for allegedly starting one of the fires near Jerusalem.
Police are investigating all possible causes, including arson, said force spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld on Thursday.
"Almost 50 percent of the fires are apparently arson," Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan told Army Radio.
The blazes started on Tuesday at the Neve Shalom community near Jerusalem where Israelis and Arabs live together.
Fires later erupted in the northern Israeli area of Zichron Yaakov and elsewhere near Jerusalem.
Windy and hot weather have helped fan the flames, which reached the outskirts of Haifa on Thursday.
Witnesses have reported cars exploding and apartment blocks engulfed in flames. Scores of people have been treated for smoke inhalation.
Several roads and schools were also closed. Haifa Mayor Yonah Yahav told Channel 2 TV there are several points to the blaze in his city.
Yahav also said there are indications one of the fires was caused when "someone tossed a cigarette in an area full of oil and flammable fluids" in an industrial zone.
Countries including Cyprus, Russia and Italy are assisting the Israeli firefighters with equipment to control the flames.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin, thanking him for his help. The leader's office said on Thursday that Russia is sending two large firefighting aircraft to Israel.
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.