Wildfires in Israel force over 80,000 people to evacuate, Netanyahu blames 'arsonist terrorism'

Tens of thousands of people were told to immediately evacuate Israel’s third largest city, Haifa, as wildfires encouraged by extreme wind rage through the country for the third day.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed “arsonist terrorism” for the blaze.

More than 80,000 people were forced to leave their homes and rush from Haifa while authorities struggle to bring the fire under control. It has been spreading especially quickly due to dry weather and strong winds.

“I want to say as clearly as possible, any fire caused by arson, or by incitement to arson, is terrorism, and we will deal with it accordingly. That is my directives to the security services – we will deal with all acts of lawlessness. Anyone who tries or will try to burn parts of Israel will be punished with all severity,” Netanyahu told a press-conference in Haifa, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Netanyahu was joined by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Housing and Construction Minister Yoav Galant.

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There are 15 active fires so far, according to the prime minister. Since Tuesday police reported over 200 fires in the region.

Suspects have been already arrested, Israeli’s police chief Roni Alsheich told reporters earlier without giving any further details.

“It’s safe to assume that whoever is setting the fires isn’t doing it only out of pyromania. It's safe to assume that if it is arson, it is politically-motivated.”

Some politicians, including Education Minister Naftali Bennett from the far-right Jewish Home party, blamed the arsons on the country’s Arab minority population.

“Only those to whom the land doesn't belong are able to burn it,” Bennett tweeted in Hebrew.

Previously AP reported that four of the arrested arsonists were Palestinians.

“We evacuated three neighborhoods and there are people who are stuck,” fire department spokesman Kayed Daher said.

“The fire is still burning and the flames are approaching a gas station.”

Fearing the repetition of a 2010 blaze that claimed the lives of 44 people, the Mediterranean port-city declared a state of emergency. There have been no reports of serious injuries, however, several dozens of people were taken to hospitals for smoke inhalation.

Since the deadly fire in 2010 Israel has upgraded its firefighting capabilities and now has special planes that drop large quantities of water on areas engulfed in flames. Russia, Cyprus, Turkey, Croatia and Greece are providing help to Israel as well.

The world’s largest firefighting aircraft, the Supertanker, is expected to be delivered from the US to help deal with the emergency.