JERUSALEM (AP) — The Latest on the wildfires in Israel (all times local):
Israel’s prime minister is blaming “arsonists’ terror” for some of the fires raging across the country.
Speaking to reporters Thursday in Haifa, where the largest of several wildfires around the country has prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands of people, Benjamin Netanyahu said those setting the fires would be “punished severely.”
Netanyahu did not elaborate on the identity of the suspected arsonists or their motives, but Israeli officials typically use “terror” to refer to Arab or Palestinian militant activity.
Earlier, Israel’s police chief said arrests have been made, without elaborating.
Some 50,000 people have been evacuated from Haifa, Israel’s third largest city. Fires have been sparked around the country for several days, with dry, windy weather spreading the flames quickly.
Israeli police have arrested four Palestinians in connection with one of several large fires that damaged homes and prompted the evacuation of thousands of people over the past few days.
Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said on Thursday that police are investigating all possible causes, including arson. Windy and hot weather have helped fan the flames.
He says the blazes started three days ago at the Neve Shalom community near Jerusalem where Israelis and Arabs live together.
Later, fires erupted in the northern Israeli area of Zichron Yaakov and elsewhere near Jerusalem. In all, hundreds of homes have been damaged and thousands of people have been evacuated. About a dozen were treated for smoke inhalation.
Cyprus, Russia, Italy and other countries are assisting the Israeli firefighters with equipment as the fires continue.