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Israel Fire Crisis Eases, Arabs Arrested on Suspicion of Arson | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Firefighters work in Haifa, Israel, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. AP

Tel Aviv-With the success in controlling fires in Israel, the escalation of complaints due to the negligence of the government to prevent these fires, treat the victims and evacuate residents and with the intensification of threats by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his ministers against Arabs, who are accused of carrying out a “fire intifada,” it was revealed that one of the blazes broke out because of percussion grenades fired by the Israeli police toward some Palestinians suspected of arson.

The government’s incitements caused the spread of a wave of curses and Jewish racist threats against Arabs on social media. The latest was the issuance of a fatwa by one of the Rabbis allowing the killing of any Arab intending to start a fire.

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, Chief Rabbi of Tsfat, on Friday posted on his Facebook page a ruling permitting desecration of Shabbat in order to shoot Arabs who appear to be starting a fire.

“If on Shabbat (or a weekday) one sees Arabs approaching a forest near our community and intend to or are in the process of setting fire to it, it is permissible to desecrate Shabbat in order to stop them, call police and/or shoot them.”

Eliyahu’s response was: “The Prime Minister has defined arson as an act of terrorism. One GSS (General Security Service) senior official called it a weapon of mass destruction. By a miracle people have not been burned alive, but we are not supposed to rely on miracles.

“Surely it is permitted and commanded to desecrate Shabbat in order to stop the fire and the arsonists, and if need be – shoot them as well.

“If in Beit Meir, Carmiel, or Haifa they had shot the arsonists, we would have been spared this catastrophe.

“I hope that the IDF Chief of Staff and the Police Commissioner will issue clear orders to soldiers, police officers and civilians which reflect the fact that these acts of arson continue – because it is their responsibility.”

In this matter, firefighters kept battling the flames in wooded hills around Jerusalem and in northern areas on Friday, with support from Palestinian firemen and emergency teams from Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Italy, Russia and Turkey.

Israeli news media reported that the largest firefighting plane, the Supertanker, was on its way from the United States, and several American fire crews also were expected to arrive.

For his part, Netanyahu said that arson appeared to be behind some of the blazes.

“A price will be paid for this arson-terrorism,” he told reporters on Friday.

He said the arson was carried out by “elements with great hostility toward Israel.”

“We cannot tell yet if this is organized, but we can see a number of cells operating,” Netanyahu added.

Following Netanyahu’s comments along with similar ones by Israeli ministers and officials, Ayman Odeh, a leading Israeli Arab politician from Haifa, rejected the suggestion Arabs were responsible for arson attacks and accused the Israeli government of taking advantage of the situation to incite against the Arab minority.

While some of the fires were man-made, the weather conditions in Israel have made conditions worse; the combination of high winds and dry air has caused the wildfires to spread, Israeli officials confirmed.

Moreover, Israeli police arrested 13 people on Friday on suspicion of arson, authorities said.