Israel wildfires: 23 people arrested on suspicion of arson

Jerusalem: 23 people were arrested on suspicion of negligence or deliberately starting firesĀ that swept across central and northern Israel.

So far, the Israeli police released only the basic details about 10 of the detainees and is quiet with details identities of the remaining 13.

The Israeli authorities suspect that some of the fires may have been of criminal origin and linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday there was “no doubt” that some of the fires had been deliberate.

“There is a price to pay for the crimes committed, there is a price to pay for arson terrorism,” he said.

Arab Israeli leaders have argued that their community, which makes up about 17.5 percent of the country’s population, is as much affected by the fires as Jews.

The Palestinians joined the efforts overnight to extinguish the blazes, sending 41 firefighters and eight trucks to Haifa.

Netanyahu telephoned Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Saturday to thank him for their help, the premier’s office said in a statement.

Haifa municipality estimated the damage in the city at $120 million, and said that of the 1,784 homes affected by the fires 572 were no longer habitable.

Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority issued a statement saying that 13,000 hectares (32,000 acres) of forest and shrubland have been burned in recent days.

Local media quoted authorities as saying an estimated 700 homes have so far been damaged or destroyed by the fires.

In the country’s third city Haifa, where tens of thousands of people had been evacuated Thursday from the path of towering flames which threatened entire neighbourhoods, residents have begun returning home to assess the damage.

With AFP inputs