Israel: Haifa: fires, evacuations


More than 60,000 people from the northern city of Haifa were evacuated from their homes Thursday, as firefighters battle massive blazes that have gripped the country over the past three days.


Five countries, including Russia and Turkey, sent firefighting planes to assist Israel in tackling the fires, which officials said may have been started intentionally. Israel’s internal security agencies are looking into the causes of the blazes, which started on Monday night and have broken out in several other places around the country.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Haifa on Thursday evening to meet with fire and police chiefs. He said that if the fires were started by arsonists, those responsible “will be punished gravely.”


Officials said that about 10 firefighting planes from Croatia, Cyprus, Greece and Italy, as well as Russia and Turkey, had either arrived in Israel or were on their way.


Netanyahu spoke Thursday morning with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who agreed to send two massive firefighting planes that could drop water on the blazes. Local media reported that a supertanker firefighting plane would arrive from the United States in 24 hours.